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.”