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[whitespace] Talking Trash

Willow Glen--With its bell-ringing holiday donation drives, senior-citizen services and transient shelters, The Salvation Army has become synonymous with charity and the good-neighbor policy.

But some Willow Glen residents are harboring less-than-charitable feelings about the organization.

who live near the corner of Lincoln and Pascoe avenues say a Salvation Army donation trailer there left them buried--first in trash and uncollected donations, then in red tape--as they tried to get the mess cleaned up.

"People were dumping more than the trailer could hold," concerned resident Helen Zalinski says. "Then the trailer would close, and people would continue to donate--or dump garbage--and pilfer through donations...all evening and night."

Now that the trailer has been removed, residents say their trash troubles keep piling up.

Zalinski, who's lived near the donation trailer for a year, says everyone in the neighborhood is aware that the garbage-dumping problem has gotten out of hand in the last few months. She says even more frustrating than irresponsible citizens dumping trash is the Salvation Army's resistance to taking charge of the situation--both when the trailer was on the site and now that it's gone.

"I went through all the majors and legions, but the Salvation Army hasn't been willing to deal with this problem," Zalinski says. "All they say is this always happens anywhere there's a trailer."

Zalinski says the Army continued to brush off her concerns until July 29, when garbage at the site was piled so high that it was strewn throughout the neighborhood's streets. She called San Jose Code Enforcement, which threatened to levy hefty fines against the organization. The trailer was removed the following day.

Now, Zalinski says, illegal dumping and pillaging is still a daily occurrence.

Maj. Jack Phillips, administrator for the Salvation Army, agrees the situation has gotten out of hand, but doesn't believe his organization is responsible for the deluge.

"All of the sudden, donations have increased significantly all over San Jose," Phillips says. "Unfortunately, there's also been an increase in dumping garbage, especially hazardous waste--half-used paint canisters and bottles of motor oil."

Phillips says he was hesitant to remove the trailer, which sat behind the Salvation Army retail store at Lincoln and Curtner avenues for six years, because he knew the problem would be worse without it. Phillips also claims the landlord, Anne Scolari, has asked the organization to return the trailer.

Scolari could not be reached for comment.

Code enforcement investigator Cindy Gil-Blanco insists that isn't an option. Gil-Blanco confirms that the code enforcement team has been aware of the problem for months and that numerous residents, business owners and passersby have complained about the mess.

"It has become a neighborhood of litter," Gil-Blanco says. "The Salvation Army had inadequate pick-ups, and Maj. Phillips told me the last truck never had enough space for all the donations."

Phillips blames a lack of police and neighborhood cooperation.

"We've asked the police to cite people who dump, but they've refused. They are very hesitant to get involved," Phillips says. "And the neighbors' basic response is that it's our problem."

Phillips holds that the Salvation Army has diligently picked up donations four times a day, and has done its part to fight donation-depot abuse, saying, "I think the answer is more community involvement."

Zalinski says the organization has never had four pick-ups a day at that location, and alleges she can prove it with pictures of the same garbage left day after day.

Steve Spivak, public affairs manager for Goodwill of Santa Clara County, says that while donations to his organization have been generous, their trailers have never been turned into dump sites. Spivak says late-night and early-morning security guards and secured after-hours drop-off spots for people donating goods at all 11 locations have kept potential problems at bay.

Late last week the Salvation Army's Los Angeles office told Gil-Blanco they will not try to bring the trailer back, even though local offices had arranged to return it to its previous location this week. The Army also agreed to pay for cleanup and landscaping of the property, and promises to hire an attendant to keep watch over donations at the remaining store.

Code enforcement has received authorization to issue citations to anyone caught illegally dumping on the site.
Mary Spicuzza

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Web extra to the August 27-September 2, 1998 issue of Metro.

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