Every now and then we’ve heard the rumors: there are certain volunteers at the Wellesley Recycling and Disposal Facility’s Reusables Area who are practically making a living by scooping up and spiriting away all the good stuff that gets dropped off before anyone else can get to it, and selling it on Craigslist, Ebay, and at flea markets. Recently, the hubbub has ratcheted up a notch with a casual comment on a closed Facebook page: “Anyone else notice that there never seems to be anything decent at the dump’s Take-and-Leave anymore?” And the conversation and the accusations were off and running.
One Swellesley reader wrote to us recently that he has stopped bringing stuff to the Take & Leave area because he doesn’t think things he was bringing were getting to people who really needed it. Simmering tensions have bubbled to the point where some residents have created a Facebook group of their own aimed at setting up their own Reusables Area of sorts for people fed up with the status quo. That this new FB group, that would allow members to gain a modicum of control over where their goodies go, had to be hidden almost as soon as it went live is a commentary about how badly people want Wellesley’s cast-offs. The organizer told us “Yes, we created a group but we are finding that people who have no connection to Wellesley are trying to join. So we have hidden the group for now until we have a chance to vet all the requests.”
It isn’t pretty, is it? The Swellesley Report has been contacted numerous times in recent weeks with stories about long-running feuds, and entitlement, of treasures and greed, and of a growing climate of frustration that at times pits some residents against certain volunteers who, it is said, make a living off of the items dropped off.
About this possibility, one of the calmer FB commenters said, “That upsets me, because if I wanted to sell something I’d do it myself… People assume their items are being donated / given a good home, not sold!”
Well, you know what they say about making assumptions. The town’s policy about such commerce is clear, and that policy is one of hands-off. In a nutshell, all volunteers must undergo training, which lays out the rules of the dump, and sign a letter of agreement, as well as a waiver. The rules clearly state that “Shopping on duty is not allowed. A volunteer who is on duty and wearing their safety vest is not allowed to shop. Volunteers are allowed to shop before and after their shift with the same rights as other Wellesley residents.”
…with the same rights as other Wellesley residents.
What this means is that although your average Wellesley resident who is dropping off something as useless as a jigsaw puzzle with only one piece missing or as generous as the two beautiful Brown Jordan outdoor chairs I picked up last summer may assume that the notion of filthy lucre passing hands doesn’t enter into the Reusables Area, they would be wrong. Dump volunteers, some there for altruistic reasons, some there for the social aspect, many there for the gleanings, do not operate under more restrictive rules than the non-volunteer Wellesley residents.
Put simply, anytime I want I can take those two Brown Jordan chairs currently gracing my back yard (they each go for about $500 new, according to the company’s website), post them on eBay (where I could sell them for about $250 each), and pocket the money.
And yet, it rankles many that some dump volunteers are making tax-free cash. Superintendent Jeff Azano-Brown isn’t deaf to the complaints. “I think there needs to be a little soul searching about how that area should be at its best. If it’s true that people are making a business out of that area, yes it bothers me. The true purpose of the area is to keep items out of a landfill. That is the true spirit of the area. 95% of the effort is really productive and helpful and achieves the spirit of the area. The positive aspects of what goes on over there are so important.”
Important, and numerous. One thing residents, volunteers, and the town can agree on is that due to the Reusables Area, thousands of items are kept out of the landfill. In addition, it may not be common knowledge that what can appear to be volunteers hiding away the good stuff in their shed is in actuality an example of them setting aside items for charitable agencies and organizations. Volunteer Barbara Faubert says, “We get requests from lots of agencies and organizations, and we always help out. Nursing homes. Homeless families. Nobody knows about that. We help out two Alzheimers Centers, one in Wellesley and one in Needham. Family Promise. Individuals who are down on their luck. There are some very needy people in Wellesley. We got a request that a single mom with three young kids who are just getting out of a shelter need items, and yes, we take the items as they come in and bring them to the shed to set aside for them.”
Still, Faubert concedes, if not declares, that “This place runs on greed.”
That simmering undercurrent of greed is what makes people refer to some of the more aggressive volunteers as vultures. People complain about volunteers who try to unload their cars and of cars that are parked at the reusables area without a dump sticker (that particular complaint should subside once the dump puts the license-recognition program in place in the fall). Regulations state that all volunteers must be Wellesley residents.
Priscilla Messing, Chairperson of the Friends of Recycling group, doesn’t much see what being a Wellesley resident has to do with anything when it comes to volunteering. She doesn’t like the fact that there is profiteering involved by some, and would prefer a model of pure volunteerism to prevail, one that doesn’t run on greed or ulterior motives. Messing realizes that her ideals aren’t shared by many.
Others remember what they call the bad old days, saying “Before there were volunteers, there were fist fights over stuff, so the volunteers are earning a living, but also providing a service. Those guys often offer to help load cars and even to truck big items to people’s houses…They don’t get paid you know. I find them to be kind and helpful and if you tell them what you need they help you find it or will help you offload the most useless junk without any complaints or without embarrassing you.”
Others point out that if certain volunteers didn’t snag items and resell them, then someone else would. That’s a good point. Let’s say the volunteers were given more onerous restrictions on the items than the rest of the town’s residents. It’s not hard to imagine that they would all simply quit and hang out at the dump all day anyway, as private citizens, not sorting, not organizing, not sweeping, not fetching and carrying. Just grabbing.
I’m a regular at the dump and have heard some hilarious exchanges between volunteers and shoppers who treat them like department store personnel. Shoppers will hold up a set of curtains and ask if perhaps three more sets, with the hardware and some sheers, will be coming in soon. They’ll ask if that gas grill over there works. Seriously? If the volunteers were allowed to fire up gas grills, they’d be selling burgers out there.
I’ve also seen multiple requests answered with immediate assistance:
Can you help me carry this? (Thank you again to the volunteer who helped me do just that recently.)
Can I leave my name on this and pick it up later?
Will you help me unload my car?
And let’s not forget that you can bring anything to the dump and never get junk-shamed.
Here’s a thought. If the stuff at the dump is really as valuable as is said, perhaps it’s time for an additional town employee. Let’s call that employee the Ebay Czar. The job description: to review every item that comes into the Reusables Area, and set aside those that the Czar deems eligible to sell on Ebay or wherever. All monies would go to the Town of Wellesley’s general fund, just like the money the dump makes from selling recyclables. If the town is literally leaving as much money on those Give-and-Take tables as people claim, the Ebay Czar could handily cover his or her salary and then some. In a big way, right?
Former Superintendent Gordon Martin always had a dream that one year the dump would turn over a cool million to the general fund (it turned over $619,000 in 2015). Perhaps the Ebay Czar could help close the gap, if the treasure could be unburied and unloaded in just the right way.
In writing this, and thinking about the spirit of the Give and Take area, I was reminded of a brief exchange I had recently with current Superintendent Azano-Brown. When I asked if he ever went over to shop the Give and Take, he said he did stop by every now and then to see if he could pick something up for the RDF offices. “Just the offices?” I asked, a little surprised. “Not for home?”
“Oh, no. Not for home,” he said. “I’m not a Wellesley resident.”
Dennis E Noonan says
As a long time Wellesley resident, I have both Taken and Left stuff over the years. Nowadays, I am mostly leaving stuff in an effort to down-junk my garage, attic and basement. I have observed that sticker checking is at best sporadic and seldom. I see cars filled with “junk,” (presumably from the T&L) and familiar faces of regular denizens, despite a 15 minute rule that is simply not enforced. I think it is true that the best stuff ends up in the volunteer “office.” I have mixed feelings about the destination of my contributions. On one hand I hope the item can be re-used by someone, not scooped up to be resold. On the other hand, I am just glad not to be adding to landfill. The other day I dropped off a shopping bag with 6 or 7 rolls of bargain toilet paper, which had proved to be unsatisfactory, but I did not want to toss in the dumpster. Two of the volunteers began to argue (loudly) over who would take the bag. I thought there would be a fistfight. When I said, “It’s just cheap toilet paper.” One of the bystanders said with a smile, “We’re all looking for cheap stuff here.”
Again how do you know volunteers are reselling it? Maybe they want stuff for their houses. They have a right to take stuff just like anyone else. especially since they put in the work. Stop being so Snobby toward volunteers . who keep the shop operatiing and functioning.
do not use --thanks says
Good for you for addressing this problem One thing not mentioned was the fact that these volunteers also get a break on their tax bill for so many hours… One of the volunteers used to brag about how much they made on ebay each month from all the things they found and had put aside They may not shop while they work but they CERTAINLY put things aside in a corner till their shift is up –well out of sight
Great idea to have a “picker” of great items and sell them as cash for the town BUT–you have to be fast or it will be gone before you know it Will be interested to see how this turns out!!!
Personally, as long as my “junk” doesn’t end up in landfill — and I don’t get hassled when dropping it off — I don’t care who takes it, whether for personal use or re-sell.
That said, it sure seems like it should be possible for the friends of recycling to use the internet to more transparently post.– and match up — wish lists from charities/charitable situations with items that town residents bring in.
Mary ann says
I don’t care if the volunteers take stuff and sell it on eBay. But I do care about getting shoved aside by a volunteer and getting an item snatched away as I reached to pick it up.
I also saw a volunteer follow someone to their car who had picked up a nice item with the volunteer loudly insisting that it belonged to the volunteer. It was ugly to watch. The item had not been set aside.
I think your idea of an employee to oversee the place might work.
Steven Dee says
To your point that if the volunteers didn’t snag items to sell other people would – – well they wouldn’t have the advantage of having first shot at everything. It would be catch as catch can. As it is for everyone else. And, ias far as the volunteers hanging around all day, grabbing items if they weren’t volunteers, isn’t there a time limit for “shopping”?
I, also, have become leery about leaving items which I would hope other hobbyists could enjoy, only to have them immediately put aside by the volunteers for their own enrichment.
How do you know the volunteers are selling items? Do you have proof? Maybe they need the items or want the items to use in their homes as well. You should be thanking the volunteers for taking time to do the work you are unwilling to do.
Stephanie Gager says
I know this for a fact for numerous reasons, the most being when I pointed out an item that we had been searching for to my husband. My husband went to retrieve the item and was approached my a male volunteer (name known, but withheld here) and told him that he could not take that because he already had it sold and the person was on their way there to pick it up and pay him.
steve harunk says
back in high school the recycling club would go to the “Dump”, as it was called back then, and spend Saturday clipping of the metal rings from bottles, separate colors, and cans – we went off to college and some townspeople go involved and kept the place going
I live in southeastern MA and went to see what the new recycling center was up to, after the local community sent people to Wellesley to see how the big town did it
wandering past the the give/take section, I was told not to even look at an old snowblower, a friend of the vested ones had gone to find a truck to take it home
the spirit had changed from spending a Saturday making a difference, to making money
Lisa siegel says
I was there recently when a volunteer was having it out with a resident. He was trying to grab the goods for himself and told the resident to “back off”. It got very nasty. I intervened and told the volunteer he was being agressive and unprofessional and I reported the incident to RDF. Another lady volunteer approached me and told me how hard the volunteers work and if they get to nab good stuff “now and then” it is ok because of how hard they work. Well it’s called “volunteering” for a reason! Another time I stopped by and a volunteer picked up a stack of glass bowls as the donator placed them down. As she collected them for herself she asked another volunteer “is Lalique good? Maybe I can get some good money for these”. I had no idea volunteers can’t grab items while in their vests. I see it happen every visit I’ve made since it became a volunteer position. It’s just no fun to go anymore, what a shame.
Jennifer Grace says
I felt the same way. However, upon reflection, it seems that if someone is leaving things at the take it or leave it, they have no further use for it, so it really doesn’t matter where it goes or what happens to it. Further, although there certainly are volunteers who sell what they take, they do so in order to make money to pay for incidentals, like food and rent. In the end, the system works incredibly well. We get to “recycle” our unwanted goods, someone else gets to earn a living and in the end, the goods are sold to someone who wants and uses them. Isn’t that what it’s all about? Why are people so cross? And, by the way, all of those volunteers who are taking the stuff live in Wellesley and earning a living by “volunteering” at the transfer station. Why is this a problem? – Think twice.
its a few bad apples in the bunch i’m sure a majority of the volunteers are good and thoughtful and helpful,
Swap Shop Supporter says
The Take it or Leave it is a fitting endeavor for Wellesley, consistent with our state of the art RDF. Sharing perfectly good items is just smart. It is rewarding to see toys, sporting goods, and books going to happy children, mis-matched glasses and tables furnishing dorm rooms and quilters and crafters finding creative inspiration.
Based on this article and the readers comments so far, the spirit of the reusable section appears to be broken, led by the aggressive “volunteers” and the well guarded “shed.” I encourage residents to share support of the reusables section and ideas to improve it. Here are some suggestions to get us started:
-get rid of the shed
-mark items for designated for charitable requests clearly, signed by RDF supervisor, noting recipient.
-stop “taking orders” from residents, if someone wants extra planters for their garden they should get them themselves
-recycle the volunteers too. Hire on a one month basis, renewing only if needed and appropriate.
– approach Youth groups (Key club, NCL, Boy Scouts, sport teams, Fiske Kids Care ) for age appropriate jobs, and Seniors to volunteer
– in a dispute, residents,not volunteers get first dibs.
Lastly, a shout-out to Saver’s in Framingham. You will feel good about your donations as the money goes to charity.
Wellesley Resident says
Based on my observation as a Wellesley resident who browses the “reusables” area occasionally during my weekly trip to the dump for recycling and trash disposal, I believe the issues discussed in this article can be solved by enforcing 3 guidelines that already exist: (1) Wellesley residents only, (2) no “shopping” by volunteers while on-duty, and (3) 30-minute “shopping” limit per day. I believe that #3 is either not enforced or inconsistently enforced as it appears that individuals who are profiting from the reusables area are quite organized and “shopping” much more than 30-minutes per day — especially on busy weekends. I would encourage whoever is in a position of responsibility at the town to stop-in on any given weekend and observe what is happening. Let’s not let a small group of individuals who are clearly violating the spirit of the “reusables” area tarnish a great Wellesley institution.
I’d also like to mention that the majority of the volunteers are lovely, friendly, and extremely helpful and deserve thanks for the great job they are doing.
Volunteers should be able to shop if they want to. they are helping the community by sorting through and organizing the take it or leave it area. So you people can find things easier. They should be able to shop if they want to they keep the area organized. Let them do wha tthey want and stop being so snobby! I used to voluntter sometimes 3-4 hours cleaning the swap shop in Winchester and I would take whatever I wanted. (I never sold anything of course) but I feel like since I put time and effort into it, if I see something I should be able to take it.
Long Time Resident says
Thanks for highlighting this issue. There are a handful of volunteers who are profiting from their time there. It is obvious. It seems there are guidelines in place and the committee overseeing the “Take it or Leave It” area should do a better job of enforcement. It is a great way to recycle and is significantly better than it was decades ago. The volunteers do a great job of sorting and keeping the area tidy. It is a shame for a handful of people to spoil the good work of so many others.
Book Lover says
I have a similar complaint about the RDF book exchange. I’m an avid reader and like to pass on my books to other readers. A few years ago when I brought books to the RDF, a woman was taking all the decent books and said she was with the Friends of the Wellesley Library and was taking the books for their book sale. If I wanted to donate my books to the Friends of the Library, I would have done so myself. I have not been back to the book exchange since that day.
Julia D. says
I recommend the Buy Nothing Project – it builds community connections through a Facebook group while keeping these kinds of items in circulation. https://buynothingproject.org/find-a-group/
Tim Green says
Despite having been a resident of Wellesley for more than 20 years, I only became acquainted with the “Take-it-or Leave it” (T/L) swap area of the Wellesley dump in August, 2005, following the first of three mission trips to post-Katrina New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I was so moved by the utterly unimaginable and capricious devastation that was visited upon the most vulnerable citizens. Not only had they lost every fabric of their lives, their attempts to begin rebuilding were thwarted by the complete unavailability of legitimate contractors and the dearth of household goods. To make matters -worse, these families were besiege by scam artists fly-by-night that was retailers of shoddy, grossly overpriced furniture and other household furnishings.
The morning after my return, I walked outside and observed a line of used appliances in our neighbor’s driveway, the first step in a kitchen remodeling. My inquiry revealed that the items were to be discarded. Something clicked. “Here we are tossing out perfectly usable, albeit date major appliances when the Katrina victims were desperately in need. I decided to try to find a way to get our like-new castoffs to a 40,000 square-foot warehouse in Biloxi that had been leased by a consortium of 165 area churches. The facility was open to local families. With a case number, which virtually every one had to avail themselves of support programs by the government and local constituencies, people could go in and take whatever they need, with no red tape. I teamed up with an independent mover in Brookline Village, and together we shipped 15 tons of furniture, appliances and household goods during an 18 month period. Initially, filled an 18-wheeler donated by the transportation hub of Dunkin Donuts. The delivery arrived on Thursday; on Saturday I visited the warehouse was virtually empty, so great was he need.
I relate this incident for no purpose of self-aggrandizement., but to express gratitude for the T/L. I visited the T/L every single day and hauled away enough items to deprive a very understanding wife of a garage for a year and a half. We discontinued the program when the economic downturn hit and concluded that local residents should come first.
If my actions constitute greed, I plead guilty as charged.
This experience unleashed a passion to be of service to the needy in Boston’s inner city. These initiatives have blossomed into a retirement hobby, and I have become particularly focused on aiding a marvelous program for homeless , handicapped, indigent artists, some of whom are enormously skilled, even formally trained. Members of this community are invited to a workshop on Wednesdays where we provide studio space, materials and creative direction. When an artist completes a work, he/she is encouraged to price it, and we attempt to sell it in a variety of venues with the artist receiving 100 percent of the proceeds. The Wellesley Free Library graciously offered exhibit space for the month of May, and we curated and hosted a very successful show. As was the case with the library, exhibited works often had to be framed—an undertaking beyond the abilities of most artists. I provide this service. Since I am bearing the costs, I maintain an inventory of some 200 used frames, most of which have been tendered to the T/L. For the library show I framed 80 pieces, more than 70 with discarded T/L frames and some mats. Often the frames are damaged or the glass is broken, so a fair amount must be refurbished. I am a volunteer at the T/L and a near daily visitor.
If my actions constitute greed, I plead guilty as charged.
I also admit to helping the needy when they finally obtain housing but have no money for furnishings. Often the items I take require repair and rehabilitation. Color me guilty as charged.
At its best, the T/L generates enormous goodwill for the town and whets a lot of curiosity. Recently I picked up an unmatched set of pots and pans. “That’s a nice cooking set you have there,” observed a bystander. When I explained that the items were for a formerly homeless person who had just gotten his first apartment, the lovely lady disappeared but returned shortly, pressing a folded dollar bill in my hand. “Give this to the young man to help him on his journey.” When I arrived home, I unfolded the bill. $100.00.
One last point, the proposal of an EBay czar is not only ridiculous and unworkable on its face, but consider that to those already feeling that the deck is stacked against them at the T/L, you are suggesting putting people on the town payroll to ensure that the tax dollars of those already feeling deprived will be used to guarantee that they never have access to the good stuff.
Thank you for your time.
Maybe there are a few bad volunteers who need to be removed but i dont think its every volunteer . i’m sure there’s plenty of volunteers who enjoy the swap shop and find useful items for their homes like everyone else