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Darrell Berkheimer: Making good used household items available

Some readers have wondered why — at Christmas time — I selected the topic of still usable appliances going to the dump for my last column.

The simple answer is because I frequently try to be an advocate for the many folks struggling to make ends meet. They’re dealing with a society that has many jobs at low wages, but high prices — for housing as well as almost everything else.

Until we resolve that situation, the numbers of homeless folks will continue to rise.



I suspect most people noticed the recent story about how many families today — strapped with bills and debt — are not prepared to meet an unexpected $400 expense without charging it. So offering good used appliances at little or no cost can be a blessing for some folks — and perhaps especially at Christmas.

As usual, I received several direct responses to my personal email address. The first came from Jeanne Blaha of Nevada City, who wrote, “Boy, did you strike a nerve this morning! I am always ranting about this same subject.” She was referring to good usable items being junked.



She wrote about the stove and fridge her parents bought in 1938 when they married. Both “ran perfectly,” she said, even after they were moved to two other family homes.

“Five years ago, when my brother and I sold the house, the appliances went with the house because they still ran,” she continued, adding that “the new owners saw them as ‘retro.’” But that’s not all she had to tell.

“You know what else worked?” she asked. “The 1938 toaster and waffle iron, which both sold immediately in the garage sale.”

She signed her message with “Old and crabby but I don’t care. LOL”

So Jeanne, you’re my kind of person.

A similar story, but with a money-saving twist, was recounted by a reader named Rochelle. She reported about a fridge that worked well for 18 years, except for the ice maker. “I decided we didn’t want any further expense on the ice maker so we bought a new fridge. Our electric bill dropped 75%,” she added.

“I had no idea technology had changed so much in those 18 years. Everyone must remember there are more efficient appliances coming out every year. I would have gotten rid of mine years before if I had only realized.”

Then an email from Peggy Lassing called to my attention that “Habitat for Humanity ReStore takes working used appliances and will even pick them up at your house.”

She’s correct — except some qualifications are involved, which occasionally create negative results.

Of course, I was aware of ReStore out off Loma Rica Drive; but a friend told me it did not accept appliances. I had never visited the store, and I was remiss in not immediately calling to check on whether it did accept appliances.

But then another email came from Bill Croker of Penn Valley. Bill is on the board of directors of the local Habitat for Humanity chapter and serves as chairman of the ReStore Support Community. He invited me to tour the store, which I did a few days later.

Meanwhile I heard refusal stories from three friends — two dealing with appliance rejections because of “a nick or scratch.” The third involved rejection of “a nice recliner with a tiny tear,” the friend said.

So I was primed to ask about such situations when taking the tour.

ReStore does accept appliances, but the store has a list of donation guidelines, which state that appliances “must be in complete working order; 10 years or newer; no repairs needed; all parts intact; must be clean and free of mold, stench and rust.”

(Copies of the guidelines are available at the Nevada County Habitat for Humanity ReStore website.)

Naturally, I wondered if the fridge we replaced last month — 11 years old with a troublesome clogging ice dispenser, otherwise in good working condition — would have been refused.

Croker and ReStore Manager Mary Gill indicated some discretion is used on items a little older depending on condition and appearance. And it was noted some laws govern the resale of various older items because of the materials used in them.

I must report, however, that I was amazed at the huge variety of inventory offered when I toured ReStore, which might be topics for future commentaries. For instance, I learned that the store receives and sells a large volume of furniture, doors and vintage wood-framed windows. Many of those items move quickly, I was told.

Both Croker and Gill admitted that they have faced some communication problems in the past over what the store can accept and sell. As a result, they reported the store now has “a real person” answering phone calls and questions callers have.

They believe that has resolved some issues in comparison to the old system requiring callers to just leave a message about a donation available for pickup.

Before leaving, I told them I was a bit surprised by some of the high prices put on used items — such as the $325 tag put on a used laundry machine. I remarked that many low-income folks can’t afford to take chances on used items priced that high, when they can only guess how long the item might last. And I was advised that all power items are thoroughly tested before they are priced.

In addition, I was told prices drop 25% after each month an item remains in the store. For instance, an item that had not sold after two months will have its price cut by 50%; and then by 75% after three months. But Croker and Gill observed that a patron waiting for the price to drop might learn later that what he or she was interested in already sold at the higher price.

They agreed, however, that perhaps they need to reconsider their pricing when I said I thought the beginning prices were a bit high for some used items, especially appliances that might be quickly needed by a low-income household when one suddenly stops working. And refrigerators, stoves and washers are necessities.

Finally, I must report I was very impressed with ReStore’s operations, and that I suspect I will be visiting the store occasionally in the future — as a patron. I like bargains as much as anybody else.

Darrell Berkheimer, who lives in Grass Valley, is a frequent contributor to The Union. He is the author of six books available through Amazon. His latest, Essays from The Golden Throne, includes 60 columns published by The Union, plus a dozen travel and photo essays. Contact him at mtmrnut@yahoo.com.


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