SCOTTSBORO – The Unclaimed Baggage Center is internationally famous as a treasure hunter's heaven. Over a million visitors a year flock to the center in search of bargains and unique items …
SCOTTSBORO – The Unclaimed Baggage Center is internationally famous as a treasure hunter's heaven. Over a million visitors a year flock to the center in search of bargains and unique items separated from their owners while traveling.
What shoppers may not realize, however, is that approximately one-third of the more than 1 million items that arrive at the center each year are donated to worthy causes.
Giving back has been a central component of the center's operations since it was founded in 1970.
"Our founders, Doyle and Sue Owens, always had a heart for their community. Of course, it started with small beginnings, but as the business grew, so did what they did. Their son bought the business in 1995 and continued that legacy," Cantrell said.
This program of philanthropy was unofficially named Reclaimed for Good several years ago. A formal foundation was established in the spring, and a building next door to the center was remodeled into an office space.
All items that come into the center are sorted into three basic categories: sell, donate or trash/recycle.
"The first priority is the sales floor, but there are some things we have in excess. A good example is sunglasses and eyeglasses. We sell a lot, but we donate probably 90 percent of what we get in," Cantrell said.
The center also has brings in more baby strollers than the sales floor can handle. In November, a tractor trailer filled with 1,000 baby strollers left Scottsboro bound for a nonprofit in Texas.
The center even finds a good use for the many gift cards that are recovered from lost wallets. Last year, the center gave away over $26,000 in gift cards, according to Cantrell.
The center forms partnerships with large nonprofits equipped to handle the volume of items on hand but also support smaller nonprofits and individuals.
If someone's insurance will not pay for a wheelchair that would make life easier, the center tries to find a way to meet that need.
If a school could use some extra tennis rackets, the center likely has some to donate.
Many schools and other groups also take advantage of the unused travel toiletries that the center has in bulk.
"I think everybody clears the counter at their hotel room and brings all of that with them. We donate those like crazy. We're in a fairly poor area of the state, and a lot of schools have started doing closets for items beyond just clothes," Cantrell said.
The center's charitable work includes organizations close to home, such as a crisis pregnancy center in Scottsboro, local schools and the nearby Salvation Army.
The center supports The Summit, a 12-month recovery program in Forty Payne for women struggling with addiction, through product donations as well as financial means.
The center also works with the local Department of Human Resources on a project established 10 years ago called Luv Luggage.
"We not only provide clothing as needed to the foster parents, but we also take suitcases and invite the public and our team members to paint suitcases that we give to the foster care program," Cantrell said.
The items sold or donated from the center are made available to the public following a 90-day period in which the airlines attempt to reunite the lost luggage with their owners.
Approximately one-third of the items are sold, another third are donated and the balance is thrown away or recycled.
All clothing is professionally cleaned, and personal date from all electronics is erased before it reaches the sales floor.