The proliferation of clothing bins around Richmond County had attracted the ire of residents upset that donations are leaving the area.
Now municipal leaders have expressed concerns about the donation bins as well.
Two months ago, the Daily Journal reported on the blue clothing donation bins, which are marked as belonging to Missions of Hope NC, Inc., a nonprofit organization.
Since then, even more boxes have appeared. The new, yellow, boxes are marked “Planet Aid.”
Property owners who agreed to allow boxes to be placed on their sites say they were under the impression that donations would go to local organizations.
But critics say that much of the donations to Missions of Hope is sold overseas to profit a Raleigh-based organization, headed up by David Greenfield. Greenfield has come under media fire in the past for allegedly duping the public into making donations for his own profit.
Planet Aid has also come under scrutiny for selling donations and raking in mega-bucks for a company that claims to be non-profit.
“Someone came and asked if they could sit a clothing donation box out, and I said yes - but I had no idea the clothes are going overseas and being sold,” said Jack Davis, owner of Davis’ Car Wash in Hamlet. “Someone told me about it after I had already put my own clothes in to donate. These things are everywhere, and I don’t like it.”
Davis rents the property from Hamlet City Councilwoman Abbie Covington, who Davis plans to call to have the box removed.
Covington was not available for comment.
Bobbi Williams, who volunteers at The Grab - a thrift store in Hamlet that uses sales to support the National Railroad Museum and Hall of Fame, has been trying to raise awareness about the boxes.
“I’ve been passing out fliers, and people are really surprised to find out that neither the clothes or the profits stay in the county,” said Williams.
Rockingham resident Susanne McInnis said that she’s located 23 clothing donation bins, and has visited all but two of the businesses where they are located.
“It is causing a great exodus of funds from an already poor county,” said McInnis. “It’s just used clothing to the people donating, but it’s gold to the companies selling it overseas.”
Clothing placed in donation boxes does not go to local shelters or thrift stores. The global trade in second-hand clothing is a $1 billion dollar a year industry, according to a 2005 report by Oxfam International. The industry makes profits off of donations handed over to collection sites by well-intentioned donors.
“If I had known they were going to turn around and sell the clothes I donated, I could’ve just sold them and kept the money for myself,” said Davis. “I thought I was giving to charity.”
The Planet Aid boxes are the same ones that Laurinburg City Council recently moved to ban in its city. Laurinburg’s decision followed complaints from various local non profits stating that the donation boxes “took away” from local donations.
“I hope we can get rid of these boxes too,” said Jim Wallace, Christian Closet board member. “Our donations are down, and we’re getting concerned about our ability to do things like donate $8,000 worth of school uniforms to kids in need next year. If our donations keep going down, it will greatly impact what we can provide to this community.”
Rockingham City Manager Monty Crump said he understood the viewpoint of Laurinburg officials, but added that the bins are on private property.
“No government should get involved with regulating commerce,” he said. “Folks should know where their donations are going - they just assume it’s local but it’s not.”
Rockingham Mayor Gene McLaurin said the matter has not yet come up in a Rockingham City Council meeting, but “the issue is on our radar and we are evaluating a way to respond.”
Williams said she has been in touch with Hamlet city council members, and she feels hopeful that the city will act on the issue.
“The companies that take these free clothes out of the county and sell them don’t pay sales tax here,” said Williams. “Places like The Grab and Christian Closet -we do. I think the City of Hamlet understands that, and will try to stop this.”
Hamlet Mayor Pro Tem Tony Clewis said that the city of Hamlet is sympathetic towards the needs of local businesses like The Grab and Christian Closet, and that the town is investigating possible action.
“We are discussing it now, and looking at some zoning issues - but we want to proceed with caution,” said Clewis.
Laurinburg justified its action because although the owners of the bins had permission from property owners, there were no current city ordinances addressing donation bins. To place them there would require an amendment by the city council.
According to The Laurinburg Exchange, Megan Atkins a representative from Planet Aid, defended the company’s position to Laurinburg council on May 15. Atkins said that none of the donations stay local.
— Staff Writer Kelli Easterling can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 18, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.