The garage was packed with other people's castoffs, as was the trailer of items Elijah Bartz emptied from his storage unit.
Bartz eyeballed the heap — end tables, high chairs, a bunch of baskets and dozens of bags of clothes — and knew it wasn't enough. He was hoping to hit three tons. This mountain was maybe two. "We didn't get the big rummage sale at the grandparents' place this year," Bartz lamented.
Bartz and his wife, Valerie, were the champs two years running in Goodwill's Next Big Donation contest, scrounging up more than a ton of donations in 2009 and smoking the competition with two tons in 2010. Both years they won tickets to the 97X Next Big Thing concert and, of course, bragging rights.
This year, they set their goal at three tons and began collecting items a couple of months ago. Primarily they hit yard sales at the end of the day and asked for unsold items. They also enlisted the help of family and friends.
Then they discovered that Goodwill had discontinued the Next Big Donation contest, due to the cost and logistics of running it. But their garage and back porch were filled with items, and the Bartzes still wondered: Did we hit three tons?
A 24-foot box truck from Goodwill pulled up to the couple's Regency Park home on Tuesday morning. It took Elijah Bartz and two Goodwill employees about an hour to fill it. The truck hauled the bins of misfit housewears, abandoned sportsgear and orphaned playthings to Goodwill's processing center in St. Petersburg, where an industrial scale would weigh the load.
Bartz was pleased with the haul, even if it came up short. Collecting the donations had grown into a hobby, an activity that brought family and friends together. The pursuit also focused the energies of Bartz, a laid-off construction worker who is watching his home slip away through foreclosure.
"This is me and my wife's way of giving a little back," said Bartz, 31, who picks up odd jobs while his wife works in a funeral home. "It's the best I can do. I don't make much money."
Goodwill spokeswoman Jennifer Fleming Lugo said the couple's selfless effort has turned them into "Goodwill heroes."
"It's so sweet that a young couple takes the time out to fill up their garage – and a flat bed trailer – with donations," Lugo said. "And it's even more special that they did it this year, without a Next Big Donation contest."
Word came back Tuesday afternoon that the donations weighed in at 3,540 pounds — far shy of the three-ton goal, but a hefty contribution nonetheless.
And, perhaps best of all, the garage is finally cleared out.
"My wife is going to be happy when she gets home," Bartz said.