Local crime is affecting farms, job sites, retail stores, and residential neighbourhoods. Now even social service agencies, like nonprofit thrift stores, are feeling the sting.

Stores like Orbiting Trends in Cold Lake, operated by the Dr. Margaret Savage Crisis Centre, have had an ongoing problem with people stealing donations left behind the store after hours.

And Amberly Gooler, manager of the Dove Centre’s Bargain Boutique in Bonnyville, says shoplifting is at an all-time high. “It happens, and it’s been really bad lately,” she said.

Donors may be ambivalent about where their used goods end up. After all, if someone who needs the items just takes them, isn’t the donation ultimately helping someone? And if a store gets its inventory through donations, is it really out-of-pocket for the stolen goods?
Is stealing donations from thrift stores a victimless crime?
Absolutely not, Gooler says. 

“We are an off-site vocational training centre for the Dove Centre, so the funds we raise here go to pay minimum wage to adults with disabilities in our community,” she said. Stealing from the Bargain Boutique affects the store’s revenue, which can end up in lost income for its employees.
The employees need job security to help them develop life skills and job skills that make them employable in the community at large, Gooler said. They succeed when they don’t have the threat of layoff or dismissal hanging over their heads.

If an employee is late for work, for example, they aren’t summarily fired.
“You know, we take extra time and we do a lot to work with them to get them where they need to be, in hopes that they will go off into the community and find employment,” Gooler said. “So they’re getting the training here in the expectations for work in the community, in other locations.”

Theft has a major effect on the store’s bottom line, largely because the merchandise being stolen tends to be the popular brand names that command the best prices. Gooler says the thieves are not looking for warm clothing for the winter, but for goods that can be resold at higher prices.
Lululemon workout gear is frequently targeted, because it can be sold used for $60. “Silver”-brand jeans are also popular among shoplifters.
“Brand new they’re worth over a hundred dollars, and we sell them for under ten,” Gooler said. 

Bargain Boutique will help people in need—if someone needs warm winter clothing, Gooler says they just need to tell a staff member they could use some help. 

And the store partners with other agencies through the Fresh Start program.

“We’re paired up with Victim Services, Lakeland Centre for FASD, Dr. Margaret Savage Crisis Centre’s Bonnyville outreach, and the Dragonfly Centre,” she said. Those agencies can issue their clients a chit
for shopping at Bargain Boutique. 

“[The clients] can come in here and they get to use their chits. So that’s kind of nice because they’re getting the help where they need it and they’re getting help from us.”

The store has increased its security to help combat theft. They’ve placed a secure donation bin behind the store, and security cameras inside. They lock the change rooms and keep an eye on what goods are brought in and what is taken back out.

“When we have people stealing items in the store, it affects our ability to pay at minimum wage. If our sales suffer, it means that employees might have their hours cut or they might have their position terminated for the time being,” Gooler said. 

Amberly Gooler, Rick Michaud, and Nikita Warren can help you hunt for bargains—there’s no need to steal!