Forget the Mall: Dumpster-Dive for Holiday Gifts Some people go to great lengths to secure just the right holiday gift. Kari Abate of Springfield, Ill., is willing to bypass the bargain bin to dig for presents. Her family gets CDs, cashmere clothes and other items that Abate finds in dumpsters behind stores.
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Forget the Mall: Dumpster-Dive for Holiday Gifts

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Forget the Mall: Dumpster-Dive for Holiday Gifts

Forget the Mall: Dumpster-Dive for Holiday Gifts

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This weekend while many of you are out holiday shopping at the mall or in the big-box stores, a small but committed group of people are doing their shopping outside, behind these stores - in the dumpsters - really. In fact, let's meet one of them.

Kari Abate is a photographer and musician in Springfield, Illinois, and a dedicated dumpster diver. She performed this weekend in Grinnell, Iowa, and that's where we've reached her. And she's actually at a dumpster there.

Hi, Kari.

Ms. KARI ABATE (Photographer; Musician): Hi, Liane.

HANSEN: Have you found anything good yet?

Ms. ABATE: Not yet. We're behind a flower shop, and sometimes you can find things that we know were not so pretty to sell to people but can sometimes, you know, go home with you.

HANSEN: How long have you been doing this?

Ms. ABATE: I sort of discovered it accidentally, oh, eight years ago. And I was so excited about it. I went out there like one o'clock in the morning the first time I read about it and we just had to check in my town see if there was anything interesting in my town, so.

HANSEN: Have you given your family dumpster gifts for Christmas before?

Ms. ABATE: Yes, actually I have. I gave my mom a beautiful red cashmere sweater. And I gave my sister-in-law like an ankle-length fleece coat. My brother is an outdoorsman. I gave him some outdoorsy clothing.

HANSEN: Did your family know the gifts were from dumpsters?

Ms. ABATE: Yes, absolutely. I'm from a long line of curb crawlers and trash pickers, and they were sort of slightly horrified but also thrilled. And there was certainly some comic value in it so.

HANSEN: Did you ever get caught?

Ms. ABATE: Yes, I've been caught many times. I've encountered store employees who can be a little surly. And basically we just educate people when we encounter them and we just say, you know, this is perfectly legal. And if you have a problem with it we will stop. So most people are pretty cool about it.

HANSEN: How often do you do this?

Ms. ABATE: Well, I used to do it on Wednesday night, so it's a mom's night-out with my girlfriends. We would go every Wednesday, and I cut down a little bit because I had to become more discriminating over the years. I got to the point where I sort of felt like a no-kill-shelter for the dumpsters. You know, I felt like I was being overwhelmed with stuff.

HANSEN: Isn't this a rather icky way to go shopping?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ABATE: It is surprisingly un-icky. The trash's bag tells if there is anything icky it's usually contained. And so you're sort of digging through the mess like cardboard boxes.

HANSEN: So when you're finished with this dumpster, where you are now behind the flower store, are you going to try to check out some others?

Ms. ABATE: Absolutely. The small drugstores will often have odd things. We found several cases of beer in a drugstore dumpster once, good beer too. And there was a lot of it. There were 10 or 11 cases of beer. It was crazy. We should have a party.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Wow. Well, I guess we better let you get back to your shopping, huh?

Ms. ABATE: Well, yes, absolutely. I've have a long list of people to shop for, so.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Kari Abate, is a veteran dumpster diver, and she spoke to us from a dumpster in Grinnell, Iowa.

Kari, good luck. Good hunting.

Ms. ABATE: Thank you so much, Liane.

HANSEN: This is NPR News.

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