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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Federal transportation officials have halted a goodwill program that turned over confiscated toiletries and other items from the Salt Lake City International Airport to local charities.
Despite nary a problem, the Transportation Security Administration decided the donations posed too great a risk.
For the past year, unopened sodas, bottled water, shampoo and other items had been collected and distributed by volunteers to homeless shelters, missions and other programs for the needy.
"There's just something that didn't feel exactly right," explains Earl Morris, federal security director for TSA assigned to Salt Lake City International Airport.
The decision has volunteers scratching their heads.
"It's like that thing where two kids were fighting for the toy so now nobody gets it," laments Alan Kaizumi, a member of the rescue mission's recovery program. "They just throw it straight in the Dumpster now."
While it lasted, the program gave one local rescue mission more than 300 beverages a week and up to 500 hygiene items. About 150 homeless use the mission three times weekly to bathe. Other charities and local food banks also got the goods.
The idea was growing in popularity, with other airports expressing interest in following Salt Lake's example.
But officials said security workers never felt comfortable redistributing the confiscated items.
"Nobody knows what they are . . . even though they were sealed," says Nico Melendez, spokesman for TSA's national office. "You are talking about thousands of items collected each day. If we could continue it, we certainly would. But all it would take is just one item that could be a harm to somebody that would be a huge liability to this organization and the taxpayers."
Brady Snyder, a rescue mission manager, said the program provided humanitarian help and an environmental benefit by keeping the items out of the landfill. He doesn't buy the security risk excuse, saying the idea of a poisoned Sprite or a toothpaste bomb is over blown.
Had TSA asked, local charities would have been willing to sign waivers releasing the agency from responsibility, Snyder said. The change will also hurt the bottom line. Many agencies won't be able to afford to replace the items now lost to the landfill.
"It was a very innovative and effective program developed by people who saw a lot of waste happening," said Snyder. "It frustrates me."
Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)