Gulf County thrift stores deal with donation robberies

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At 4:16 p.m. on Nov. 9, the Port St. Joe Police Department posted a screenshot from surveillance video showing a robbery from the Methodist Care Closet’s donation pile. 

Though the thieves were caught on camera, the resolution was too fuzzy to make out their exact features. Still, the police were hopeful that getting the word out would help them track the robbers down. 

It took about an hour for social media users to find them. 

"We had set up video cameras, and we had someone who came and just loaded up their jeep, and we caught it on video, but we didn’t know who the person was” said Cathy Cox, who has been working with Methodist Care Closet since 1996. “So, the police department put that video and information out there, and within one hour the person was identified.” 

The thieves were selling the stolen goods on Facebook Marketplace, a buying, selling and trading platform run by social media company Meta, formerly known as Facebook. Marketplace, a function accessible to all Facebook users over 18, has about a billion users worldwide. 

Cox said that the store often finds goods that were stolen from them on Facebook Marketplace and similar platforms, like Craigslist, Ebay or Offer-up. 

This robbery was one of many that Cox has experienced during her 25 years with Methodist Care Closet. She said the thrift store,  located on Williams Avenue in Port St. Joe, has donations or other material stolen most nights. 

Robberies have gotten more common since digital platforms have made buying and selling used goods more convenient and accessible. 

"It’s quite frequent,” Cox said. “There’s hardly a night that goes by that somebody isn’t in the Dumpsters or in the bins just taking things out of them.” 

She credits lacking knowledge about whether it is acceptable to take donations for free. Further, she fears the growing “thrift flipping” trend – where individuals will buy cheap items at thrift stores and sell them for a profit – might be playing a role in increased thefts. 

"The problem is, if somebody really needed the clothes, all they had to do was ask us. We do that every day,” she said. “But that’s not what’s happening. What’s happening is people are reselling our things – getting them from us and then reselling them on yard sale sites.” 

The Methodist Care Closet has signage up warning customers that buying items to resell is strongly discouraged. They also warn of ongoing video surveillance of the store and its surroundings. 

Donations are stolen from thrift stores in the area frequently. In fact, the Port St. Joe Police Department’s original Facebook post listed two others in the area by name – Goodwill and the Humane Society. 

In the comments, many more were named, including several in the Wewahitchka area. 

“When you go onto private property and steal donated items from that property, it is a crime’” the post reads. “Goodwill, Methodist Care Closet and The Humane Society all deal with thefts. They all have cameras and will be prosecuting these thefts.”  

“We are watching!” 

 

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