IT’S a weekend, and you’ve just cleaned out your wardrobe. Bags upon bags of items you want to give a second life – where do you take them?

The op shop donation bin, of course.

Did you ever think that your donations would end up in criminal hands, or thrown to waste?

Well, volunteers at Connecting 2 Australia’s (C2A) Cooinda Hill Op Shop, who pour their hearts into their work, have been left heartbroken and disheartened after a series of burglaries and theft of your kind donations have taken place from their shop in Seymour Street, Traralgon.

These incidents have not only caused significant damage, they have also led to a loss of revenue, affecting the community they serve.

C2A is a Registered Charity and NDIS provider. The money that Cooinda Hill Op Shop raises, goes toward supporting people with disability.

Team Leader at C2A’s Cooinda Hill Op Shop, Lynn Noske, said break-ins had become more frequent.

“They’re using pry bars to get into the bin. They’re also fishing out of the top of the bin and scattering donations all over the street, creating waste,” she said.

“Basically, they were taking all of our most valuable donations that were put there overnight.”

Ms Noske, determined to protect the donations and the community’s trust, has been in constant communication with the local police over the past few years due to these criminal activities.

The Op Shop has even taken the proactive and costly step of installing security cameras, hoping to deter potential offenders. However, despite these efforts, these criminal acts continue.

“We’ve got it all on camera,” the volunteer said.

C2A Cooinda Hill Op Shop volunteers suspect they’re not the only op shop targeted by selfish thieves.

There are volunteers who come down over the weekend each week to clear the donations off the street.

“One particular Sunday, a volunteer came down, and there was a white 4WD parked sideways out the front – they had already filled the back of their car, and they were filling the boot with donations from the street,” she said.

Ms Noske said she was told the man driving the vehicle, when approached, told the volunteer that “charity starts at home, love” and drove away.

“I don’t know what they’re doing or why they believe they have the right to steal donations,” Ms Noske said.

Working as Team Leader at the Traralgon store, Ms Noske said the donation theft had gotten progressively worse over the years.

“We haven’t had someone jimmy our donation bin open before – this is on another level,” she said.

Over the last few weeks, the charity has lost hundreds of dollars that could have been used to better the lives of people with disability both locally and across the state.

Amid these donation thefts, the volunteers at C2A Cooinda Hill are pleading with the community to donate their Op Shop-ready goods within operating hours so they can be sorted and shelved instantly.

“I know people are donating because they think they are helping us, and we really appreciate every donation we get. However, by leaving it on the street, they’re just leaving it open for people to destroy or steal,” Ms Noske said.

And unfortunately, some are dumping, which certainly isn’t considered donating.
Many regional op shops have opted to remove their donation bins or locate them inside the store following both theft and illegal rubbish dumping.

Not right: Op shops are warning of the troubles with dumped goods outside donation bins that have been stolen and strewn across the street. Photograph supplied

All op shops are incredibly grateful for the community’s charitable contributions, but if you really want to do your bit for charity, C2A is asking you to not leave donations out on the street.

“We are all volunteers, we give up our time to come down here and clean up the footpath,” Ms Noske said.

For many of these op shop workers, it’s a seven-day job to help raise money for those in need.

C2A’s People and Culture Business Partner, Roger Rodrigues, said Traralgon’s Op Shop revenue helps fund engaging programs and inclusive opportunities for people with disability.

“Because we are a not-for-profit, it is through the efforts of our committed volunteers, and support from the community, that help C2A to support people with disability in the way we do,” he said.

Operating from 10 sites around regional Victoria and metropolitan Melbourne, C2A’s services provide individualised care, inclusive opportunities, and supported employment for people with disability.

C2A’s centre-based programs and community services are designed to help participants live an enjoyable, active and fulfilling life, working towards achieving individual goals.

Social interaction and community engagement are essential parts of daily life.

C2A also has a Respite and Short Term Accommodation facility for carers and families and people with disability needing a break.

The social enterprise’s supported employment program helps provide purpose, skills training, and personal development for people with disability.

Their diverse work and career opportunities help bring financial independence, choice, and community inclusion for people with disability.

A Latrobe City Council spokesperson said illegal dumping can cause a significant financial burden on community-based volunteer operated op shops.

Most of these charity-based businesses have now installed security cameras to deter illegal dumping of items. Footage obtained can be used to identify and fine perpetrators of this activity.

“If community members have items to donate, it is important to ensure they are donated to op shops during their opening hours or taken to dedicated donation bins,” a council spokesperson said.

The council says items of poor quality must be disposed of in a responsible manner and not dumped at Op Shops. People can use either household kerbside bins, annual kerbside hard rubbish collection or hard waste disposal coupons issued with rate notices.

Check the council’s website for locations of waste disposal facilities and lists of recyclable items that can be disposed of without charge at:

No way Jose: Volunteer’s Lynn Noske and Lorraine Peters are fed up with people stealing charity donations. Photograph: Zaida Glibanovic

Care: Op Shop volunteers work hard to raise money for charity. Here is Cooinda Hill’s Margaret Kennedy sorting through donations.
Photograph: Zaida Glibanovic