To go from the Heart of Florida United Way offices to the Gifts in Kind Center, you have to pass through secret doors, walk a long, bare concrete ramp down, and then provide the secret knock. Ok, there isn’t really a secret knock, but that mysterious door at the end of the ramp is kept locked. And when it opens, the first thing you see is the rather imposing figure of Carlo DeTommaso.
“It helps to be tall, it makes it a lot easier to reach things on the upper shelf,” says the seven-foot tall Gifts in Kind manager. When Carlo steps aside to allow a visitor in, it becomes clear why being tall is an advantage in this job.
Rows of heavy metal shelves reach nearly to the second-floor ceiling of the warehouse, piled with boxes upon boxes stacked on pallets upon pallets. It’s 5,000 square feet of stuff. Carlo takes in overstock from stores like Bed Bath and Beyond, the Pottery Barn or the Disney Store. Visiting trade shows and conventions donate truckloads of floor samples and swag. And sometimes there are private donations.
“We’ve received a few cars, we received a boat, and once we received a mobile home. Some guy had it, said he didn’t want it anymore, so I sent out an email blast to our members and it was gone within days,” says Carlo.
Gifts in Kind members can come and shop the warehouse in much the same way you’d shop at Costco. Any 501 (c) 3 can be a member. United Way partner agencies can join for free. Other non-profits pay a small membership fee based on their annual budget. The items they shop for at Gifts in Kind areat pennies on the dollar to help non-profits keep their costs down. Carlo says personal care items are the most popular among his shoppers, which he says are also the hardest for him to acquire. The next most popular items are toys, which he says fly out of the warehouse year round, and office supplies. During the final week of October, Halloween costumes from the Disney store were the hottest items. With just a few days to go before trick or treating, Carlo was down to his last 35 of 80 costumes, which he hoped to have cleared out by the end of the day.
When Carlo joined Gifts in Kind in 2006, he says the warehouse consisted of three display shelves and three pallets of items to be sorted. He’s the center’s first full-time warehouse manager, and has since grown it to a sizable operation that moves nearly $1.5 million in inventory in and out a year. That is, of course, the fair market value of the inventory, and does not represent the small handling cost that members pay for things.
“The weirdest thing for me taking over the warehouse is, you would get a price on something, and then lower the price. Normally, you would mark something up, but here you mark it down,” he says.
Gifts in Kind keeps Carlo extremely busy. Things are moving all the time. The last of the Halloween costumes made little room for the International Sanitary Supply Association donation he’s expecting to take in shortly. That will mean pallets of cleaning supplies, brooms, buckets and mops.
As Kurt Cobain once sang, “there’s nothing at the top but a bucket and a mop and an illustrated book about birds.” You can find all of those atop the high shelves at Gifts In Kind. Along with a really tall guy.
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