Wanted: pickup drivers
The Salvation Army has cut back on picking up much-needed donations of furniture, appliances and other large items because it can't find enough licensed commercial drivers to hire.
The problem is most acute for the Salvation Army, but other organizations, including the National Kidney Foundation of Hawai'i and Big Brothers and Big Sisters Foundation, also have had problems finding and keeping qualified drivers.
"People are angry that pickups are not being made," said Julie Beauchamp, administrator of the Salvation Army's Adult Rehabilitation Center, whose main source of funding comes from donations of clothing, furniture and appliances and sales of those items at five Thrift Stores on O'ahu.
The recent departure of four licensed commercial drivers for better-paying jobs cut the Salvation Army pool to three drivers — one for store deliveries and two for pickups. Four large trucks have been idle for several weeks, said Beauchamp. The lack of drivers means that where the Salvation Army used to handle 100 pickups in a day, it now handles 30.
That's a huge decline, Beauchamp said, and has led to a minimum three-week backlog to pick up items. Beauchamp did not have figures for how much revenue has been lost due to the drop in pickups.
"We're in a bad dilemma and just plain hurting," Beauchamp said. "We're trying the best we can, but we're so far behind."
The lack of commercial drivers is just another indicator of Hawai'i's consistently low unemployment rate, which fell to 3.0 percent in July from 3.1 percent in June on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to the state Department of Labor.
That compared with an increase in the national unemployment rate to a seasonally adjusted 4.8 percent in July, from 4.6 percent a month earlier. Figures for July are the latest available.
Finding and keeping drivers is a problem, said Mele Young with the Kidney Foundation. Young said it is not uncommon to train someone, only to have the person find a better-paying job, she said.
In the past three years, she has lost three drivers, but they all decided to return. She credits the group's family atmosphere and benefits such as "fun day," in which the whole organization takes off a half day to have fun together.
Dennis Brown, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Foundation, said neither his group nor the Kidney Foundation requires a commercial driver's license, making it easy for someone in the office to pitch in if a driver is out.
"Fortunately right now, we're doing OK," he said. "It's sort of an ongoing challenge to keep drivers, especially with the job market the way it is."
Goodwill Industries of Hawai'i used to pick up items but switched to drop-off only sites in neighborhoods years ago, leaving the Salvation Army as the largest nonprofit organization that will collect big pieces of furniture.
The lack of pickups is making it difficult for those who want to donate.
Father David Barfknecht, with the Benedictine Monastery of Hawai'i, said he called around and found that the Salvation Army was the only nonprofit that would pick up furniture or even come out to his Waialua location.
Reluctant to trash usable furniture, Barfknecht said he tried on five separate occasions to donate couches, desks, beds and other items to the Salvation Army. Part of the problem was his location, which is about two miles off Farrington Highway and hard to find without specific directions, he said. The first time, the driver couldn't find the address, and another time Barfknecht canceled because of a construction project, Barfknecht said.
"They tried," he said. "I canceled it once and a couple of times they didn't have enough drivers."
Beauchamp said she is appealing to retired licensed commercial drivers for help. "If we could get people, even to do part-time work, it would help," she said. "We've raised our rates from $10 to $12 an hour for CDL drivers."
In addition, she said the Salvation Army would welcome help with donations being dropped off at its warehouse at 322 Sumner St.
"Donations are important for the funding of our program," Beauchamp said. "We do understand the inconvenience this has meant to our donors and we are very sorry for the problems this has caused them."
The Salvation Army Rehabilitation Center is a 76-bed facility for men, ages 16 to 60, dedicated to rebuilding lives for those seeking help for drug and/or alcohol abuse. There's no charge for the six-month rehabilitation program.