The military family social media space went wild today when a auction company in Chesapeake, Virginia advertised an upcoming auction of 105 containers of over 78,000 lbs of "Unclaimed Shipments from Overseas" belonging to military members and stored at Bay Area Movers, Inc. The Facebook post advertising the auction has since been deleted.
"These Shipments are unclaimed household goods / personal property of military members who were stationed in locations such as Italy, Germany, Spain and Bahrain," the Gene Daniels Auctions site said. "The contents of thee shipments have not been seen and containers have been sealed since originally packed overseas."
In three hours the Facebook post sharing the auction had over 830 shares and over 300 comments, most from readers in disbelief.
Many military family commenters immediately worried that what is up for auction are missing crates that had simply never been delivered to military families. After all, we've all been there. You move and stuff simply disappears -- and it seems to do so at alarming rates. Everyone has a story about missing stuff, or, almost worse, getting a delivery of something that is not yours, only to be told to just keep it.
While officials at Surface and Deployment Distribution Command (SDDC) are still looking into this for me, I was able to speak with Jean McRrae, one of the owners of Bay Area Movers Inc. According to her, the auctioneers' description of what they are selling is misleading. This is not really unclaimed shipments, she said -- instead it's more like unclaimed temporary storage items.
"Some of this storage we've had since the early 1990's," she said.
Bay Area Movers has never had an auction since it opened in 1984, she said -- but with peak PCS season coming up, they are in desperate need of storage space, so they need to clear out containers that have been there a long time, about 50 individuals' items.
According to the joint travel regulations, items go in temporary storage or "storage in transit" for up to 90 days after a military move, although troops can request and get an extension up to 180 day. After time runs out it's up to the service member to either arrange delivery, or continue to pay for storage. Troops are notified by mail by their on-base transportation office that their storage time is up.
But those items can then hit the auction block if the service member doesn't pay his storage bill, McRae said. In that case, Virginia law requires that they make three attempts at contacting the owners via certified mail. If no response is received, the items can be sold. McRae said they also have worked to contact the owners by other means, even tracking down a former service members' parents.
"I actually got in touch with a guy last year, we looked him up on the internet, couldn’t find him. But who we actually found was his mother and father," who lived in Tennessee, she said. "He had 17,000 lbs that had been in storage for 15 years. ... he came with a Uhaul and he picked it up."
Another woman who had received the certified letter came in today to arrange to get her items, she said.
"We sent her a letter and she got it. She came in on a walker -- we had made a partial delivery to her in 1992," she said. "She lived in Maryland and she drove all the way down here."
McRae said when she did not charge either person storage fees dating back to when they failed to pay their bills, working instead to "come to an arrangement" for payment, she said.
She said she has been frustrated by the reaction on social media, but understands why people feel the way they do.
"I mean I understand. It’s gotta be horrible moving around like that," she said. "Your stuff gets lost, it gets damaged, so I understand the frustration."