We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
On a lonely stretch of Kenilworth Avenue in Hyattsville, Md., stands a Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center/thrift store/donations depot. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., trucks roll out of the depot to collect clothing, furniture, and assorted household items from generous area citizens—as long as those citizens live in certain parts of the area.
“I was told very quickly that they do not come to ZIP code 20019,” says Pat Wheeler, a frustrated would-be donor. When Wheeler’s mother died, the charity was happy to pick up her belongings from ZIP code 20011, in Brightwood. But when her father died a few months later and she needed a pickup from East Capitol Street and Benning Road in Marshall Heights, a lower-income neighborhood just three-and-a-half miles from the depot, the Salvation Army refused.
For Wheeler, the way the organization decides where the donations are evokes uncomfortable memories of “redlining,” a now-illegal process by which individuals living in low-income neighborhoods are identified as too high-risk for participation in services such as mortgage or insurance programs. The Salvation Army, however, disputes that the decision has anything to do with race, blaming the limited service on staffing and truck shortages. “We’ve had to eliminate ZIP codes,” says Kathy Carlisle, assistant to the administrator of the Adult Rehabilitation Center. “Race has nothing to do with [pickup policies] whatsoever….It’s that we don’t get as many calls.”
Though the Salvation Army previously picked up from every ZIP code in the D.C. area, the decision to cut certain neighborhoods was made about 18 months ago. “[Our policy] was based on which area gave the most donations,” says Les Ashby, production supervisor at the Adult Rehabilitation Center and the person in charge of the donation trucks. Ashby does not specify how the determination was made, explaining that the Salvation Army “just looked.”
The charity says that there is no list available of which neighborhoods are off its service map, but it points out that it also does not pick up from ZIP code 20003 in Capitol Hill, a more racially integrated area—though the reasons don’t have anything to do with its demographics. “With this new security situation, our trucks get inspected,” said Bob Clark, transportation supervisor. “If you’re anywhere near Capitol Hill, good luck.”
Goodwill of Greater Washington will go anywhere in the District provided that the donor has a minimum of two rooms’ worth of furniture. “We would never turn down a donation based on ZIP code unless it is outside our service area, in which case we would recommend the appropriate Goodwill office to the donor,” writes Brendan J. Hurley, senior vice president of marketing and communications, in an e-mail.
The Salvation Army is not alone in its new policy; among the seven charities that pick up donations in the D.C. metropolitan area that responded to inquiries, Value Village and American Rescue Workers also use ZIP codes to screen donations. A telephone operator at Value Village also cites facilities shortages to explain this policy, but neither organization’s corporate offices returned calls for further comment.
Still, it’s the Salvation Army that has raised a few eyebrows in 20019. Barbara Brooks, who was turned down when she called the organization to have some of her mother’s furniture picked up in Capitol View, not only is suspicious of the reasoning behind the policy, but also thinks it doesn’t make sense for the organization.
“Maybe they assume it’s low-quality materials,” says Brooks, whose mother had to pay $700 to hire movers and a truck to have her would-be donation removed. “But these are retired government employees, people with children going to school, seniors going to nursing homes. These are nice things.”
Wheeler also questions the charity’s assertion that there are fewer donors in 20019. “How do they know where the donations are?” she asks. “If you’re telling people you don’t come to a neighborhood, how are you going to get donations? You can’t make a determination of this type of stuff from a ZIP code.”
But according to Carlisle, tough financial reality trumps all. “You are using the whole day to get a few donations [from some neighborhoods], whereas you go somewhere else and you fill the whole truck,” she says. “We have to pick and choose.” CP