The folks at Palmetto Goodwill have a favor to ask: Please clean out your closets, garages, storage sheds and attics.

And then bring your unwanted items to one of their donation centers.

Seems donations to the nonprofit are down. Way down. How bad is it?

A notice in the Charleston Metro Chamber's electronic newsletter said donations are at their lowest level in 10 years. Tina Marshall, vice president of corporate relations for Goodwill Industries of Lower South Carolina, said it might actually be worse than that; she's been with the nonprofit since 2000 and says this is the worst donation drought she can remember.

Which leads to two questions — why are donations barely trickling in, and why should you care?

It's the economy

Marshall said Goodwill donations ebb and flow like anything else, and that the historic dips are in February and March and again in July and August. Sort of makes sense.

On one hand, after you ring in the new year, you're probably going to clear out anything that became clutter as a result of the holidays, and even the most procrastination prone among us are probably going to get that done in January. And July and August are prime vacation times.

But this particular down period has been going on for about the past six months. “End-of-year donations were good, but not as strong as in recent years,” Marshall said.

It's more likely that the overall economic picture is taking its toll on donations, she said. Combine the state's 9 percent unemployment rate with the payroll tax increase and high gas prices, and you have the perfect storm that cuts both ways for places like Goodwill.

More people are hanging onto items that they might donate if times were better and they felt more secure with their paychecks and pocketbooks. At the same time, more people find themselves in need of assistance. Combine the larger group who needs services with a smaller amount of donations, and you can see where this is going.

Helping hands

Folks might not realize that Goodwill helps victims of fire or other natural disasters with clothing vouchers for the Goodwill store through their partnership with the Red Cross and other social-service agencies.

All told, Goodwill provided $385,000 worth of vouchers to 11,012 people in 2012.

And donations directly affect the nonprofit's ability to provide employment services at its 14 Job Link centers. Goodwill receives no state or federal funding; more than 90 percent of its revenues go to fund job-training programs and employment services.

When donations are plentiful, more people can get help to find work, and unemployment drops. When donations are down, fewer people can be helped, and the community suffers.

So in the spirit of spring cleaning, take a moment to consider that couch, extra set of dishes, old computer or those pants you haven't worn for two years.

Your donation could make a world of difference to someone.

Reach Melanie Balog at 937-5565 or mbalog@postandcourier.com.