PORT RICHEY — Amassing two tons of stuff isn't as hard as you might think.
Just hit a bunch of garage sales at the end of the day, when the unsold items are heading toward the curb. Lift, transport, repeat.
Elijah and Valerie Bartz perfected the strategy this year to win Goodwill's Next Big Donation contest for the second straight year. In the span of three weekend drop-offs, the Port Richey couple brought in 4,516 pounds of clothing and lamps, books and knickknacks — smoking the second-place finisher by 3,196 pounds.
"When we started doing it, we set a goal that we wanted to jump up to two tons," twice the size of the couple's winning donation last year, Elijah Bartz said. "It became a little bit of a hobby, something fun to do, and we got a lot of people involved. It became a community effort."
The couple won two VIP seats to the 97X Next Big Thing concert Sunday in Tampa. They'll get autographed memorabilia and a chance to meet a headlining band. Elijah even got a shopping spree Wednesday at the Goodwill Superstore in St. Petersburg with Danielle of the 97X Morning Show to select an outfit for the concert.
The Next Big Thing concert is an annual tradition for the Bartzes, as it always falls near Valerie's birthday (she turns 27 on Friday). She was looking for discounted tickets last year when she learned about the Goodwill contest. Elijah vowed then: "I want to be known as the guy who donated a TON."
And this year, that goal became two tons.
The folks at Goodwill wondered if that was too ambitious.
"Both Elijah and Valerie have jobs and a little girl to take care of," said Michael Ann Harvey, the vice president for marketing at Goodwill Industries-Suncoast Inc. "They must have done nothing else on weekends but collect things to donate."
The Bartzes passed out fliers at dozens of garage sales, offering to take any unsold goods — with the owners' permission, of course. They hit the mother lode at the community yard sale at Suncoast Gateway Mobile Village, where Valerie's grandmother lives.
"That was a very big hit," said Elijah, 30. "Our second drop (at Goodwill) was 1,700 pounds, and it was mostly from that."
Items were stored in the couple's enclosed porch until they loaded up trailers to haul everything to Goodwill. Their 3-year-old daughter Kendall even pitched in, bravely parting with some baby toys and moving small items onto the truck.
"We told her it was going to children that didn't have enough for Christmas, and that we're helping other kids," Valerie Bartz explained.
Once they got to the Goodwill drop-off locations, it took four people between 30 minutes and an hour to unload, weigh, and then load their donations onto the Goodwill trailer.
The boxes included lots of decorative items and "enough clothing … to clothe a small neighborhood," Harvey said. Elijah even salvaged a couple of boxes of solid brass doorknobs that were being tossed at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort in St. Petersburg, where his construction crew was hired to do renovations.
"One box of those weighs 100 pounds," Elijah said. "They're heavy, man. And I thought, this contest is by weight. We probably ended up with 200 pounds of doorknobs from the Vinoy."
And what isn't suitable for Goodwill's thrift stores gets sold to salvage dealers, so the nonprofit gets money either way. The proceeds help pay for the agency's programs in the region, which operate at a loss of approximately $1 million annually.
The Bartzes' donations "are especially meaningful in this economy," Harvey said. "Donations of household items have faltered in the last two years, because people are holding on to what they have.
"The Bartzes' generosity means additional revenue for our programs, particularly Goodwill's training programs for people who have significant disabilities," Harvey said.
And next year, Elijah said, the goal will be three tons.
Bridget Hall Grumet can be reached at [email protected]