Clothing donation boxes They're all over Kalamazoo, but are they charities

已有 648 次阅读  2012-08-06 04:38   标签polo  ralph  Marti 
Ordered several colors and was very disappointed - the shirts are very short and if they shrunk at all they'd be way too short. Sent them all back. Would have been a great shirt if they were a couple of inches longer. I am not tall - 5'4".They've been cropping up all over Kalamazoo and Portage, popping up in parking lots and vacant lots like oversized mailboxes. But what happens to your unwanted shoes and clothes if you drop them in those brightly colored donation boxes?

While dropping off a bag of clothes might help clear out clutter and keep items out of landfills, the donations are not necessarily going to charity. In some cases, people are giving away free goods to a multimillion-dollar business. And local charities who traditionally depend on such donations say that the boxes are starting to hurt them.

"They're everywhere," said Rob Pierce, director of operations for the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center in Grand Rapids, which operates all the Salvation Army's thrift stores in West Michigan. Pierce said the Salvation Army first became aware of the proliferation of boxes about a year ago. "Unfortunately, they do have a negative impact on what we get.

"We're about 30 percent down on clothing," Pierce said, compared with donations at the same time last year. It's not clear what percentage of the decline is due to the drop boxes, he added, "Nonetheless, it doesn't help us."

U'SAgain, which recently placed boxes at four area businesses including Bacchus, Bronco Mart and Laing's Radio & TV, is a for-profit recycling company. Planet Aid, whose yellow boxes dot vacant lots across Kalamazoo, is listed as a 501(c)3 charity. In 2008, the Better Business Bureau stated that Planet Aid failed to meet its 20 criteria to be accredited as a charity, and it received an "F" from the American Institute of Philanthropy in 2006. A third group of blue boxes takes donations for the Childhood Disease Research Foundation in Fremont, Calif.

U'SAgain resells clothes to wholesalers either in the U.S. or overseas or reuses them as industrial rags, insulation or in car dashboards, Rasham Grewal, a spokeswoman for the Chicago-based company explained. The four Kalamazoo businesses hosting drop boxes are all participating in USAgain's revenue share program, she said.

U'SAgain's approach helps extend the usable life of clothes, Grewal said, with U'SAgain's first boxes in Michigan diverting an estimated 75,000 pounds of textiles from landfills in 2011. The company has some 10,000 boxes in 17 states.

Unfortunately, critics said, they are also diverting clothes from charities that could really use them.

"Our main goal is to promote recycling --?? 85 percent of clothes are going to landfills," said Grewal, who added that the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 11.1 million tons of clothes, shoes and other household textiles are thrown out each year."We know that convenience is the name of the game."

Actually, the EPA estimates that 85 percent of all household textiles are going to landfills, which includes items, such as linens and towels, other than clothing.

Controversial ties

The company has seen its share of controversy, with the Chicago Tribune and other media organizations publishing investigations linking it to a Danish group, the Tvind Teachers' Group, a multinational, multi-conglomerate group whose leaders are considered fugitives by the Danish government. Numerous journalists have published reports into Tvind-linked clothing boxes from U'SAgain, Planet Aid, Gaia, IICD and Humana. A British website, tvindalert.com, tracks the organization's multinational businesses, properties and charitable operations in countries such as Mexico and Zimbabwe.

Tvind's founder, Mogens Amdi Petersen was arrested and extradited from the U.S. to Denmark on tax evasion and embezzlement charges. Petersen and all but one of Tvind's executives on trial were found not guilty in 2006 by a lower court judge, with one being convicted of fraud. Petersen and six others fled Denmark before the government could file an appeal.

In its response to the Gazette, U'SAgain denied any connection to TVind or Planet Aid.

"U'SAgain is a private, independently owned company with headquarters in Chicago. We are not affiliated with Planet Aid or any other drop-box program. We have absolutely no affiliation with Tvind," said Grewal in an email.

However, in a 2009 interview with Seattle's KIRO TV, chief executive officer Mattias Wallander said in an interview that he was associated with the Tvind Teachers' Group: "Wallander admits he's involved with the Teachers Group. However, he denies it's a cult or that he's every (sic) done anything illegal. 'That's a ridiculous statement and I don't think the Teachers Group is anything that needs to be defended. Like you say, it is a personal choice I have made to be associated with a community that does good around the world. Thata??s my personal choice and it doesn't affect U'SAgain. It doesn't affect people who donate clothing to U'SAgain,' Wallander said."

An open letter from U'SAgain to its Seattle sponsors regarding the KIRO report dated Nov. 19 Custom-Fit Dual Match Polo, 2009 polo, and obtained by the Gazette stated that "Mattias Wallander and (president) Janice Bostic have been members of the Teachers' Group for decades. The Teachers' Group may be unique but it is not a cult. It is a secular humanistic community of people working around the world mainly on humanitarian projects ... (see humana.org for more information)."

And the Danish public prosecutor linked U'SAgain with the Tvind Teachers' Group in extradition papers for Petersen in 2001: "In the United States, the clothes are collected under the name 'USAgain.'"

'Know where your stuff is going'
The flaws are very noticeable. Some shirts have two buttons while others have three. Some have bands on the edge of the arm, some do not. Some are cap sleeve while some are full short sleeve. Some are waffle-weave (pique) cotton, some are not. Some fit way too big and some fit way too small. Usually when shirts are seconds, they are at least the same design and fabric regardless of color and the sizes vary within reason. These shirts are all over the place. The nice things I can say are: the colors are nice and the fabric is high quality. But that's not enough the get me to keep ill-fitting shirts that aren't consistent in design either. I'm returning the shirts because I bought them for work but the inconsistent fit makes them embarrassing to wear out of the house.
Longstanding Kalamazoo-area charities said they are watching to see the impact of the boxes and, in a time of scarce resources, asked people to make a considered decision before donating.

"They're popping up like crazy, which is a concern. Donations are our largest source of funding, and we don't want any of our services threatened," said Denise King, director of marketing for Goodwill Industries of Southwestern Michigan. Donations to area Goodwills stay in Southwest Michigan, King said, for use in the charity's job-training and employment programs.

"We're just trying to inform people, especially when they think they're donating to us," said King, who said she has had people drop clothing into the boxes and then call her for a tax donation, thinking that the boxes were affiliated with Goodwill.

"We just want people to be aware and to read the boxes. Then they can make their own decision," said King. "Just look at what you're donating to. People are kindhearted and they want their donations to do good in their community."

U'SAgain is accredited by the Better Business Bureau. And in Kalamazoo, U'SAgain was candid with business owners interviewed by the Gazette about the for-profit nature of the boxes, and the boxes state clearly that U'SAgain is not a charity. On the front of the boxes outside Laing's and Bacchus is lettering saying, "USAgain is a for-profit clothes collection company. Deposits are not tax deductible."

"These guys were really good. They explained the program to me: how it gets distributed or sold," said Chris Laing, owner of Laing's Radio & TV at 317 Balch St. ralph lauren outlet The new sandals are employed L, who said his box has been in place for a month. "They were definitely very up front about it. Some of those boxes, they make it look like you're donating to some place. Some of them, they make you think they're going to do something great with the money, but they're just lining their pockets."

Laing, who had not heard about U'SAgain's links to the Teachers' Group, said that, if his box proves profitable, he might receive a small amount of revenue-sharing, but that's not why he agreed to host the box.

"The point was just to get people here. To me, it's free advertising. Even if they come at night, they know where I am the next morning," said Laing.

While Laing said he's donated to the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission in the past, he doesn't mind the for-profit nature of U'SAgain.

"In a time when the economy is horrible, is giving money to a business a bad thing? I don't think so," said Laing.

For those who would like to support a local charity, Goodwill, the Salvation Army or the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission say they would be happy to take unwanted clothes.

So far, the Gospel Mission has not noticed a drop-off in donations because of the boxes, said Hannah Greve, assistant director of development at the Mission.

"Here at the Mission ... people know they have to bring it (donations) down to the donation drop-off center," said Greve, at the back of the Mission's Rescued Treasures thrift shop at 448 N. Burdick St. "They know they're giving to people who are down here, who need the clothes, and that proceeds go back to the mission."

Like Goodwill, local donations to the Salvation Army also stay in West Michigan, Pierce said. In fact, the rehabilitation center Mens Lacoste Polo Shirts, which serves up to 120 men and women at a time, is funded solely through sales of donated items.

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