Where are drop-off box ‘donations’ going?
By Mike Nolan firstname.lastname@example.org March 19, 2011 12:04AM
Some of the organizations that have placed used-clothing collection boxes in the south and southwest suburbs.
More than $364,000 went toward employee wages and benefits, including a salary of $62,000 for its president. Another $391,000 was labeled as “collection costs,” plus nearly $67,000 went for clothes collection containers and $66,000 was spent in clothes handling costs, according to the filing, which doesn’t detail specific educational activities paid for by the sale of clothes.
Go Green for the Cause
“There has been considerable focus on designing the logo and other information to display on the receptacles in order to encourage the general public to donate their used clothing to further the organization’s mission,” Go Green told the IRS. “Through the end of 2009, all funds raised have been utilized the cover costs to get started.”
The organization, on its Web site, said that last year it donated $50,000 to Breast Cancer Network of Strength.
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
It’s somewhat of a rags-to-riches story.
Metal bins resembling oversized mailboxes, hungry for your castoff clothing, have been popping up across the south and southwest suburbs.
Some groups collecting used clothes say what goes in the boxes is resold to support noble causes, such as educating the public about environmental issues or helping cancer patients.
But how much money is being raised — and, more important, what it’s being spent on — is something of a mystery.
And some communities are grappling with the issue of how to control the growth of the collection boxes, some of which are not well maintained. Many are not operated by charitable organizations but by private companies such as U’SAgain, based in West Chicago, that resells the clothes it collects on the global market.
“I think a lot of people are kind of struggling with this (regulating donation boxes) right now,” said Paula Wallrich, community development director in Homewood, which is considering a ban on bins deployed by private companies. “Everybody is kind of at the beginning of researching this.”
Ed Paesel, executive director of the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association, said he had never heard of the for-profit collection bins until reading about them in the SouthtownStar last week. He said the association hasn’t been contacted by any town officials looking for guidance in regulating the boxes.
“A lot of times, when something like this pops up, the (village) managers will ask us to do a survey,” he said.
Cheryl Lightholder, a spokeswoman for Goodwill Industries, said drop-off boxes run by for-profit businesses are becoming more prevalent nationwide.
“All too often people want to quickly clear out the things they can no longer use and simply drop their unwanted items at the nearest collection box or thrift store because they assume they’re making a charitable donation. That isn’t always the case,” Lightholder said.
No doubt you’ve seen the red, green or white boxes in strip mall parking lots. Along with Homewood, suburbs such as Alsip, Chicago Heights, Frankfort, Homer Glen and New Lenox have them.
But they’re scarce, or even nonexistent, in towns such as Oak Lawn, Orland Park and Tinley Park. Orland Park prohibits them, but Tinley Park has no such restriction.
Gaia-Movement USA, a Southwest Side-based organization, says clothing it gathers in its green bins is resold to pay for environmental programs. Florida-based Go Green for the Cause boasts that donations help cancer patients and create jobs.
An IRS filing shows Gaia took in $1.3 million in 2009 and spent about $1.29 million, but it’s unclear from the filing what was spent on specific programs. The bulk of the group’s expenses (more than $800,000) went toward salaries, benefits and collecting and handling clothing donations. Representatives of Gaia could not be reached for comment.
Go Green said it’s a newly formed nonprofit, and that in 2009 it didn’t spend a dime on its stated goals.
The most prolific collection business in the Southland is U’SAgain, which asks on its red boxes that donors “Let your used clothes get a second life and be reused.” The company, established in 1999, doesn’t hide the fact it’s out to earn a buck.
Pronounced “Use again,” the company collects about 1 million pounds of clothing a week at roughly 8,000 bins in 14 states, including eight in Homewood alone. The clothes are resold and often end up in resale shops, typically outside the U.S.
U’SAgain said it’s diverting a significant amount of textile waste from landfills, but, like waste firms that sell recyclables such as glass and aluminum, it sees that there’s money to be made.
“It’s a for-profit company, a growing company,” spokeswoman Margaret Sullivan said. “There’s an enormous market in the world for affordable clothing, from Nicaragua to Bulgaria.”
The company said it gets permission from business owners to place bins on their property, and in some instances pays the owner, she said.
But what’s sticking in Homewood’s craw is that the donation boxes of such companies aren’t being regulated the way other businesses are in the village, Wallrich said.
“It’s still a business, a for-profit enterprise,” she said of the boxes.
U’SAgain, Gaia and another used-clothing business in the U.S., Planet Aid, reportedly have been linked to Tvind, an organization in Denmark with wide-ranging business interests. Foreign authorities have been examining Tvind’s operations for years, and some former members have described it as a cult-like group.
Sullivan denied that U’SAgain is tied to Tvind.
“The money, the company, the operations — none of it is connected,” she said.