LAKE PLACID - When workers at the Nu-Hope Elder Care Thrift Store arrive to open it, they may find furniture, household goods or even sheetrock outside.
As a result of such donations, manager Elaine White said, "We have everything Wal-Mart has and then some.
That has never ceased to amaze Ingra Gardner, executive director of Nu-Hope, which serves seniors in Highlands and Hardee counties. She recalled that during one visit she heard someone ask for a pepper grinder. And sure enough, she said, the store had one.
But the problem lately is that some of those donations are not making it onto the shelves because of thefts that hurt seniors.
Gardner said Nu-Hope is a not-for-profit agency that helps keep seniors in their homes as long as possible, as opposed to putting them in nursing homes. It provides short-term and long-term services, transportation and meals, based on what the person needs, she said.
Revenue from the thrift store determines at least to a large extent how many people Nu-Hope can serve.
Nu-Hope receives funding through a matching grant that is 10-1, Gardner said.
"For every dollar spent in the thrift store, we receive $10," she said.
As a result, she said, "When you take from a thrift store, you're actually stealing from a senior."
When someone calls for services, the West Central Florida Council on Aging evaluates how critical the needs are of the caller, Gardner said. Those with the most critical needs get served immediately, she said.
But some with less pressing needs wait until the money is available. Currently they serve about 800 people in Highlands and Hardee counties, she said.
White said it's impossible to know how many thefts have occurred at the thrift store on 103 Main St. But supporters in the community have told Nu-Hope several times they've seen people on the property who were not dropping off donations.
At times they've advised donors to bring goods when the store was open, Gardner said.
But that's never been successful because supporters want to donate when its convenient for them to do so, she said.
The Lake Placid Police Department is trying to prevent future thefts. On its Facebook page, the department pledges to include a link for a year on any businesses that helps to pay the $2,000 cost of a security camera system for the thrift store. In addition, the department is pledging to pay for a fifth camera.