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Toy recalls ruin fun

For safety, Salvation Army stores are told to pull most of its toys off thrift store shelves.

By LEONORA LaPETER ANTON and ILYCE MECKLER, Times Staff Writers
Published November 28, 2007


Lesley and Theo Stewart of Clearwater examine toys Tuesday at the Salvation Army in St. Petersburg. Volunteers sifted through bags of donated toys to find ones on recall lists. It was the first time the Stewarts had volunteered here.
photo
[Lara Cerri | Times]
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ST. PETERSBURG - Tampa Bay area Salvation Army thrift stores are pulling nearly all toys from shelves rather than contend with the multiple recall lists that have come out in recent months.

The action came after The Salvation Army U.S.A. Southern Territory - which covers 15 states from Maryland to Texas - ordered many of its thrift stores to guarantee the safety of the toys or get out of the secondhand toy business altogether for now.

So far, 123 Salvation Army thrift stores in 15 states have pulled most of their toys, including 26 stores in Florida. In the Tampa Bay region, 15 adult rehabilitation thrift stores are affected in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando, Polk, Sarasota and Manatee counties.

Salvation Army Maj. William Madison said he immediately ordered the nine Tampa Bay area thrift stores in his command to pull all toys except some stuffed animals.

"Toys have just become a real pain," he said. "Every single day we've been debating over this for the last couple weeks."

Nationally, the Salvation Army is recommending that thrift stores and other programs stop accepting toy donations unless they can successfully eliminate recalled or hazardous toys, said Melissa Temme, a national spokeswoman for the Salvation Army.

It is up to individual stores to determine how to comply with the recommendation.

Maj. Don Smith, who is in charge of six stores in Polk, Hillsborough and Pasco counties, made the decision Tuesday.

"Based on growing concern, we're pulling all the toys out of our stores with the exception of bikes," Smith said.

Salvation thrift shops are still accepting used and new toy donations for now but are not selling them.

Good Will Industries, another charity that runs thrift stores nationwide, is not removing toys at this point unless they are on recall lists or appear to be suspect, said Michael Ann Harvey, a spokeswoman for Good Will Industries Suncoast.

The organization has a full-time safety manager on staff.

"We've stayed on top of it as closely as we can, but as you can imagine, it's a challenge for thrift stores to do that because most products are not in boxes," Harvey said.

Salvation Army representatives said they are trying to err on the side of caution. At a Salvation Army in St. Petersburg, hundreds of used toys were stacked in large bins in the back of a warehouse Tuesday - set aside until officials figure out what to do with them.

The toy culling does not affect the Salvation Army's Angel Tree program, which has been accepting new toys this holiday season for 2,200 underprivileged children. On Tuesday, volunteers began inspecting hundreds of new toy donations in stages at a Salvation Army gymnasium on Ninth Avenue N. They tried to determine whether the donations are on national recall lists.

"It's a very uneasy feeling," said volunteer Patricia Frizelle, as she tried to match up toys to the thick recall list. "I wouldn't want to make a mistake."

The big concern is lead. This year, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued 61 toy recalls on more than 25-million individual toys, many of them for lead contamination. That compares with 40 toy recalls in 2006.

Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission, urged consumers to review the recall lists on the agency's Web site. Many manufacturers have return programs, he said, so toys with lead should not be thrown away.

Wolfson said the agency is urging charitable organizations and anyone else who sells toys to develop a process for screening them.

"There will be more toy recalls coming," he said.

Salvation Army officials say they are doing the best they can in light of multiple recalls.

"We want to make sure that what we give out to clients is safe," said Maj. Esther Satterlee, a corps officer who is in charge of women's ministries for the local Salvation Army. "We have the kids in mind, and we want them to have not only a good Christmas but a safe Christmas."

Fast facts

Recent toy recalls

1. Polly Pocket Play Sets with magnets (7.3 million play sets)

2. Mattel Doggie Day Care magnetic toys (about 1 million)

3. Mattel "Sarge" die cast toy cars with excess lead (about 253,000)

4. Marvel Toys Curious George plush toys with excess lead (about 175,000)

5. Fisher Price Go Diego Go boat toys with excess lead (38,000)

For more information on toy recalls, go the Consumer Product Safety Commission Web site at www.cpsc.gov

The agency's "Drive for 1 Million" campaign allows consumers to sign up on the Web site to receive e-mail alerts about toy recalls.

[Last modified November 27, 2007, 23:13:32]


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