For community nonprofits facing a daily test of survival, thefts from the thrift stores they rely on are like a slap in the face.
Anita Robinson, manager of Swain/Qualla SAFE Thrift Shop, has seen emboldened thieves brave security cameras to swipe donations dropped off outside the store after-hours.
If those items had made it into the thrift store, they would have supported a shelter for victims of violence and sexual assault. It’s a service Robinson says is desperately needed in the area.
“We help the community,” said Robinson. “I mean it’s a shame, that we have to deal with people like that.”
Ellen Kilgannon, director of P.A.W.S., an animal welfare organization in Swain, said people are stealing both after-hours and in broad daylight.
“It’s happening to all the thrift stores,” said Kilgannon. “It’s really discouraging because we’re in an economic recession, so things are hard enough to start with.”
Stolen items range from a bag of clothes to a mountain bike that was snatched from the porch of the P.A.W.S. thrift store just last week.
Not being able to identify the freeloaders has been a major problem in capturing offenders. They often cover up their faces with hoodies and turn their backs on surveillance cameras.
Kilgannon said she’s even thought about hiding in the thrift store at night to catch the thieves redhanded.
“[But] who wants to spend their evening hiding out, trying to catch a thief that may or may not come by?” said Kilgannon. “There’s no set schedule for them.”
To prevent more thefts, Kilgannon encourages citizens to drop off donations only during normal business hours, and to send in an anonymous tip if they see any suspicious behavior.
To make a donation or report a tip, contact P.A.W.S. at 828.333.4267 and the Swain/Qualla SAFE Thrift Shop at 828.488.4756.