Clean and sanitize frequently touched surfaces. Submitted photo

REGION — Reuse is part of the fabric of Maine. All across the state there are small, community-based thrift stores, furniture banks, yard sales, secondhand shops, antique stores, auctions, and flea markets (to name just a few!) that help people get rid of things they no longer need and help others access goods they might not otherwise be able to find or afford. Many reuse organizations make goods available at no or low cost to patrons, and oftentimes they use their profits to fund social services like food pantries, support for local schools and health facilities, or cultural institutions. Reuse means different things to different people – it’s a treasure hunt, a chance to meet with friends, an opportunity to serve the community, a way to clean out the clutter, and a way to meet basic needs.

As with so many things, COVID-19 has disrupted the important work that was being done in community reuse organizations all over the state. Uncertain about the safety of accepting donations, welcoming patrons, or staffing volunteers, many organizations have reduced their services or temporarily halted operations. This document incorporates research findings on the meaning and value of reuse, as well as guidance from state and federal health officials, the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, and other resources to help community reuse organizations make decisions about reopening safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for reopening community-based reuse organizations. Decisions about how, when, and whether to reopen will hinge upon space, staffing, community and organizational needs, and the nature of the outbreak in the community, to name only a few considerations. There are risks associated with reopening – particularly for thrift stores staffed by volunteers, who tend to be older and therefore at greater risk of experiencing serious illness from COVID-19 – but there are also risks associated with remaining closed. Many volunteers derive important social benefits from their work in thrift stores and community reuse organizations, and reuse is helpful to those experiencing economic instability because it allows them access to low-cost goods – something particularly important right now

The key considerations for deciding on a reopening strategy are bulleted below.

Keeping safe

Maintaining social distance (about 6 feet) between people is critical to reducing transmission. Post signs to ensure distance is maintained. Patrons, volunteers, and staff should wear face coverings. Post signs to alert patrons of this policy.

Limit crowds. Assign a volunteer or staff person to monitor entrances to keep the number of patrons to no more than 5 customers per 1,000 square feet of store space.

Create barriers between patrons and staff/volunteers. Install plexiglass shields at cash desks and limit physical contact associated with accepting donations.

Safe spaces

Maximize ventilation. Open windows and circulate air to reduce the likelihood that aerosols will spread the virus.

Widen aisles and make them one-direction only. Give patrons, staff, and volunteers as much space as possible in aisles. Put down floor markers to ensure one-way traffic within the shop.

Provide social distance markers to remind patrons to stay a safe distance apart.

Clean and sanitize frequently touched surfaces.

Close fitting rooms or quarantine items that have been tried on.

Accepting safely

Quarantine donations for several days to allow any live virus to die to reduce the risk of transmission.

Have donors sort their own donations to minimize staff/volunteer contact with items.

Continued in Part 2 – Consider Alternatives to a Traditional Reopening. If reopening feels too risky for patrons, staff, or volunteers, consider alternative strategies that reduce or eliminate contact with patrons while maintaining the important social benefits of reopening for volunteers and staff.

Author Information – Brie Berry is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Maine. She is a member of the Materials Management Research Group at the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions at the University of Maine and a Legislative Graduate Fellow with the Maine Chapter of Scholars Strategy Network. Her research focuses on the meaning and value of reuse in rural Maine communities. For more information, contact: [email protected]


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