Drop Boxes for donated clothing: For profit or charity? | News
SCHENECTADY - You see the colorful containers in parking lots across the region: drop boxes for used clothing and shoes. You may think that favorite old coat and pair of designer jeans you give away, are going to help someone in need.
But they're also helping a business turn a profit.
We're not talking about the Salvation Army or Good Will here. It's the other boxes that make different claims: that your donations will go to a charity, for recycling, or that you're helping the environment.
In our In Depth report, we track down the owners behind them to ask what's going on.
You clean out your closet and drop off bags of old clothes and shoes, popping them into collection boxes... with the warm thought that someone needier, somewhere, might just wear them again. At least, that's what Mohamad Solaiman had in mind.
Reporter: "Where do you want these things to go?"
Solaiman: "To the people who really need them."
When his family immigrated here from Iraq, they depended on charities to get on their feet. Now Mohamad often drops off clothes and new yarn into these boxes at Latham Farms, hoping to give back.
Reporter: "Do you think it goes to charity, is this a charity?"
Mohamad: "That's what I think, yes, that's what I think."
But is it a charity? Take a closer look. On the box, it says "AFAB Recycling," with smaller print reading that you're donating to a company with 'old fashioned ideas', helping to ease the burden on landfills. No where does it say, 'charity,' but there is a Connecticut phone number, where we reached James Chauvin, who says he doesn't do charity. He's a businessman.
Reporter: "So you take the clothes back to Connecticut and then what happens to them?"
"This is a business like any other business we have overhead we have employees we have taxes. I'm not a charity I'm not tax exempt," Chauvin said.
Chauvin explained that he pays Latham Farms to place his boxes, selling the clothes in bulk to companies that ship them to countries around the world for resale. In essence, recycling clothes for people who can't afford brand new, which he insists does help people in need.
"So do I make a profit when it's all over and done with? Yeah, I hope so. That's why I'm kind of in business here," Chauvin said.
But what about the boxes that do claim to help a charity, like this blue box on the parking lot of a pizzeria. It says the proceeds benefit the Northeast Parent & Child Society, but do those donations really help?
"The proceeds do benefit Northeast and the people that Northeast serves," said Eugene White, Communications Specialist with Northeast, a non-profit Schenectady-based organization that helps families at risk staying together with intervention extensive programs.
White said the organization does get a check every month from a company that runs the drop boxes; money that helps fund a thrift shop for families in need, called Shop on Park.
"When someone puts a bag of clothing into a Northeast Parent and Child Society marked box, what happens is that those clothes are recycled and the funds from the project keeps this shop open," he said.
The Glens Falls company behind the boxes is American Clothing Recycling. The owner told us the donated clothes are resold in third world countries. 50% of the profits goes to charities, including Northeast Parent & Child.
We also tracked down the newest drop box in the region: bright green containers that say "People's Charity." The owner, Alex Golubev said he wants to change the image of drop boxes.
"Ninety percent of these organizations use them for profits there's little that they give back," he said.
He's also planning to resell the clothing donations, pledging to give much of the profit to fund local school and police programs. We confirmed that two Parent Teacher Organizations in the Coxsackie Athens school district will be accepting $5000 each.
Reporter: "How do we know that you're not turning this into profits for yourself?"
Golubev: "Because we're open. Everything is basically in black and white, it's al on the tax returns. We have an open book, how can you be more honest?"
That's the crux of the matter: how can you decide which box to trust? Reading them carefully, to see if they make promises, for starters. Calling the number and checking online, can also shed some light.
Mohamad Solaiman was surprised to learn that his donations are being resold for profit.
"I will give to the church I'm not going to go there," he said.
In fact, the boxes that Mohamad donated to at Latham Farms, actually had the most information on them, compared to the other boxes we checked. They clearly state that it is a recycling business, not claiming to be a charity in any way.
Reporter: "What would you say to people here who think they're giving clothes to the needy?"
"They are," Chauvin said. "If they want to give it a place that they know it's going to be used by someone who needs it, who appreciate and want it, they are right on the money, because that's what's happening."