Local charities must compete with out-of-town companies seeking clothing donations

Saturday, June 29, 2013 4:38 PM
Last updated Sunday, June 30, 2013 2:13 AM
  • Follow Latest News

Jim Stiff is seeing red – a lot more than he used to.

Back | Next
Women sort through clothes at Garden City Rescue Mission. Local charities fear that donation boxes placed in town from out-of-town groups will only serve to diminish clothing and other donations which are meant to help the area's needy.  EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
Women sort through clothes at Garden City Rescue Mission. Local charities fear that donation boxes placed in town from out-of-town groups will only serve to diminish clothing and other donations which are meant to help the area's needy.

The president and CEO of Good­will of Middle Georgia & the CSRA has been seeing more bright red bins cropping up on the edge of shopping center parking lots and unobtrusive side streets around Augusta.

Each beckons passers-by with big white letters for donations of “Clothing and Shoes.”

Stiff says he wonders where the donations go because they don’t come to Goodwill or any of the many other local charities that seek to help the poor and needy.

“These boxes are kind of like a stone in the shoe of the Salvation Army and Goodwill and other charities,” Stiff said. “They are having a direct impact on Augusta having the full resources for the needs of the local community.”

Stiff said Augusta charities are just starting to feel the impact of a phenomenon spreading nationwide. Companies seeking to profit from the demand for salvage goods are going into direct competition with nonprofit groups over clothing donations.

“The majority of these are owned by salvage dealers,” Stiff said. “We are probably seeing a 5to 7 percent factor in reduced donations from the previous year.”

Though some boxes are for charities, most benefit for-profit companies that bundle and resell the donated items.

One such company is Better World Recycling, based in Charlotte, N.C., which owns the bright red boxes that are proliferating in the Augusta area.

According to Georgia law, companies that solicit donations through such unattended boxes must make clear whether the item will benefit a charity. Those that collect items for profit must have a statement that says, “Donations are not for the benefit of any charitable or religious organization.”

Better World’s bins have a telephone number and a Web site address but do not make clear that the donations are not for charity.

The company got in hot water with North Carolina officials this year for a similar problem. The company’s owner, Ahmad Ramounieh, is facing sanctions over the way his donation bins were marked in that state.

According to an administrative order filed April 15 by the North Carolina Secretary of State, Ramounieh was ordered to pay $21,500 in fines for violations of the state’s Charitable Solicitations Act.

The order said Better World is not a public charity and didn’t display the proper disclosure language on at least 55 bins. The order also says Better World misrepresented its relationship with several charitable groups on its Web site.

A second order filed this month seeks an additional $8,000 in fines and demands a complete list of all the company’s bin locations in North Carolina. It also seeks an accounting of any donations Better World has made to charities.

Reached by telephone, Ramounieh said he didn’t want to discuss his business.

“I’ve had a bad experience before with the media, and I don’t want to comment,” he said.

PHILOMENA MOONEY, a manager at Catholic Social Services Thrift Store on Broad Street, said she has wondered about all the new donation boxes cropping up around town, but she doesn’t know who they belong to.

She does know, however, that those boxes don’t benefit local charities.

“Those don’t belong to us or anyone else in town,” she said.

Mooney said she isn’t sure whether it is coincidental, but donations of clothing and other items to CSS have declined in the past year.

John Sebby, the development director for the Salvation Army in Augusta, said he’s concerned about the impact if the boxes become more common.

“We are not seeing any negative impact thus far, but the competition is getting fierce and I didn’t realize it was this active,” he said of the growing number of donation boxes.

Mary Lane McNeely, Goodwill’s executive coordinator, said that in Bibb County a few years ago, growth of donation bins became such a problem that the county adopted an ordinance regulating them and their owners. The ordinance requires that all donation bins be owned and operated by a registered charity or nonprofit group.

McNeely said companies from as far away as Chicago are placing donation boxes in communities across Georgia. She said most of the boxes don’t make it clear whether the owner is a charity or what will be done with the donations.

The language of the boxes is often deliberately vague and often refers to “recycling” in a way that can be construed to mean the boxes benefit charities.

“They start out on the fringes of the community and just slowly creep in,” she said. “They just call it recycling and ‘going green,’ which everybody loves.”

McNeely said laws can only do so much to protect the public.

“Enforcement and follow-through on legislation is difficult for a multitude of reasons that seem to be repeated with each inquiry,” she said in an e-mail.

AMERICA’S THRIFT STORES, another company with bins in Augusta, is also a for-profit organization, but it says a large portion of its proceeds are donated to charity.

The Birmingham, Ala.-based company has its donation bins across the Southeast. The collections are consolidated, sorted and distributed to 18 thrift store locations. A portion of the net profits – about 52 percent – is donated to its nonprofit sister company, American Family Foundation, said Bill Marchenko, the foundation’s donation manager for Georgia.

Marchenko said his company has about 50 sky-blue donation bins in Augusta and surrounding counties. The nearest thrift store recipient is in Athens, Ga. His company pays some property owners a monthly fee to host the bins.

“I started to get permission for sites in the latter part of December and started getting them physically in place in early January,” he said.

The bins have all the state-required language stating who owns them and which charity benefits. Marchenko said there’s nothing deceptive about it, though no local groups benefit.

According to the company’s 2011 tax report, the foundation had more than $566,000 in revenue and made grants to other organizations of about $505,000. The focus of its support goes to a variety of evangelical Christian organizations and ministries, Marchenko said.

KEITH POPE, the executive director at Garden City Rescue Mission on Fenwick Street, said even if a company is doing good elsewhere, he is concerned about the effect out-of-town collections could have on future donations in Augusta.

“We are not hurting, but I’m sure it does have some impact,” Pope said.

Garden City takes in clothing donations and gives them each week to those in need. On Friday, LaRose Williams was there looking for shoes for her and her daughter. Williams, 28, said she’s seen the many red donation bins showing up and doesn’t like it.

“It’s not for charity,” she said. “They are selling all that stuff.”

She said the boxes appear to be painted in a way to confuse people who seek to give the clothes to the poor.

“They use red because that’s Salvation Army,” she said. “They are trying to throw people off.”

Pope said he would like to see Augusta adopt a local ordinance to control the spread of the third-party donation boxes.

“I think there should be some kind of regulation in the city of Augusta on these boxes,” he said. “There are so many organizations in this area that need those items to support people who need help here.”

Marchenko said demand for salvaged goods means Augusta will likely see more bins from different companies in the future.

“There’s a lot of competition out there. It’s huge and it is getting bigger,” he said. “To be honest with you, I’m surprised that the area hasn’t been saturated already.”

RULES FOR DONATION BINS

By Georgia law, for-profit companies must have bins that state: “Donations are not for the benefit of any charitable or religious organization.”

Companies that collect for charitable purposes must display the following statement:

“This collection box is operated by (name of operator). The items deposited in this box will be sold, and a portion of the proceeds will be paid to (name of charitable organization or religious organization). Further information about these payments can be obtained from (name of operator) at (address, Web site and telephone number of the operator) and (address, Web site and telephone number of the charitable organization or religious organization). In addition, further information about the charitable organization may be obtained from the secretary of state.”

– Steve Crawford, staff writer

Comments (20) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
TrulyWorried
16487
Points
TrulyWorried 06/29/13 - 04:01 pm
10
1
Collection boxes

I know one thing - that owner of the "Better World" collection boxes should take them all to where he came from (odd name should tell us from where) - and make IT a better world. Leave our local collections alone - always someone out there trying to grab money that is meant for a good cause. Hope some type of law will be passed to possibly make 'for profit boxes' illegal. Our local folks need all the help they can get!

corgimom
38321
Points
corgimom 06/29/13 - 04:42 pm
7
2
We in Charlotte have known

We in Charlotte have known for years what they are trying to pull, this is nothing new.

useful
750
Points
useful 06/29/13 - 05:08 pm
8
3
I know goodwill is worried

I know goodwill is worried about these boxes,this could cut into the pay that disabled workers make, some as low as 20 cents an hour.

Little Lamb
48969
Points
Little Lamb 06/29/13 - 05:25 pm
5
0
Lawmakers

From the story:

According to Georgia law, companies that solicit donations through such unattended boxes must make clear whether the item will benefit a charity. Those that collect items for profit must have a statement that says, “Donations are not for the benefit of any charitable or religious organization.” Better World’s bins have a telephone number and a Web site address but do not make clear that the donations are not for charity.

It is not hard to think up a strategy that will get Better World a loophole around this law. All Better World has to do is establish a policy and track record that they give a few dollars every year to some charity (say a local soup kitchen, for example). Then they can honestly say that donations into their red boxes do indeed "benefit a charity." Problem solved.

scoopdedoop64
2488
Points
scoopdedoop64 06/29/13 - 05:50 pm
6
0
Make a Deposit

Maybe we should make a deposit of things they can't use or want, :) They would be best to come pick up their boxes. We in the CSRA would like to make sure we help our own people first. This article makes it clear that we all better be careful about where we take our throw away stuff.

Stunned 2
6279
Points
Stunned 2 06/29/13 - 07:36 pm
6
3
Goodwill?? Isn't the owner of Goodwill making millions

Goodwill?? Isn't the owner of Goodwill poketing millions off of 'charitable donations'? He picked a good name for his business for his own profit

735
Points
Barry Paschal 06/29/13 - 07:52 pm
4
3
Actually, no

"Stunned 2":
First, Goodwill Industries doesn't have an "owner." Goodwill Industries is a collection of semi-autonomous chritable organizations, including our local Goodwill - Goodwill Industries of Middle Georgia and the CSRA (where I work). Nearly 83 cents of every dollar donated to Goodwill goes directly to its mission of helping people to secure jobs and support their families. That record earned Goodwill an A+ rating from the private watchdog group Charity Watch.

Donations to Goodwill help provide a hand up, not a hand out, to people in our community. Be very wary of those donation boxes owned by profiteers who only want to take money out of our community and give nothing in return.

James K Stiff
7
Points
James K Stiff 06/29/13 - 09:53 pm
5
2
Over Minimum Wage

Goodwill Industries of Middle Georgia & the CSRA, a locally governed charity that is one of 160 autonomous community based Goodwill organizations, has over 600 individuals on payroll. In the CSRA there are no employees or trainees who make less than minimum wage.
The donation of gently used goods allows Goodwill trainees and employees learn valuable skills as they sort and process community donations, and the proceeds from the sale of your donations in our upscale resale stores helps underwrite free services like the Job Connection and helps keep Helms College programs be priced far below other private post secondary education schools. Your blue jeans are transformed into education and career opportunities for individuals seeking a full participation in the American Dream. Thank you for "giving it up for Goodwill". Jim

Young Fred
20921
Points
Young Fred 06/30/13 - 12:22 am
5
0
What a racket!

Apparently anyone can place a collection box with a phone number, a charitable sounding name, asking for donations. IMHO that's no different than placing a box asking for cash donations.

Stunned 2
6279
Points
Stunned 2 06/30/13 - 01:07 am
4
2
Check out other souces, other than Goodwill's own website.

Other respectable sources say executives earn half a million annually and take advantage of Depression-era tax loopholes to pay some workers sub-minimum wage pay. It is all in your perception - is that fair and do you want to donate to an organization with highly paid executives and is it exploiting the disabled?

Riverman1
93501
Points
Riverman1 06/30/13 - 06:20 am
8
0
100 percent

When I was giving away my mother's belongings, I loaded up the pick-up. I stopped on the way from her house in front of a run down place in Bamberg with people sitting on the porch. I told them to help themselves. They did and thanked me. 100 percent reached the poor folks.

soapy_725
44110
Points
soapy_725 06/30/13 - 06:48 am
1
0
Goodwill Directors, GA $458K per year, CA $1.1M per year. PBS
Unpublished

Who's benefiting who. All that glittered is not gold.

soapy_725
44110
Points
soapy_725 06/30/13 - 06:49 am
1
0
Copycats of The Salvation Army. Drawing resources from the mos
Unpublished

t effecient charity in America. Stay with the proven CHARITY.

soapy_725
44110
Points
soapy_725 06/30/13 - 06:52 am
1
0
Volunteers do the grunt work. Executives bank the bucks.
Unpublished

God only asks for 10 percent. Goodwill wants fifteen. Some charities want 50 percent.

InChristLove
22485
Points
InChristLove 06/30/13 - 06:52 am
2
1
I read an article where

I read an article where indeed GW pays disabled employees less than minimum wage. My question is, do these disabled employees accept less than minimum wage because it is necessary? Why would someone agree to work for $1 an hour. My thoughts, and I have no way to prove, is maybe it is that these disable employees received government benefits and support for their disability and are only allowed to make a certain amount of income a year so they can maintain these benefits and that is why they are willing to work for less than minimum wage.

Just a thought.

soapy_725
44110
Points
soapy_725 06/30/13 - 06:57 am
1
0
Layers of bureaucrats are everywhere. Even in charities.
Unpublished

Volunteers. Volunteer coordinators. Assistant volunteer coordinators. Human resource assistant director. HR Directors. Director of acquisition. Director of distribution. Public Relations Director. Grant Writers. Financial Director. IT Director. Assistant CEO. CEO. CFO.

It takes money to run a corporation. These folks don't come cheap.

soapy_725
44110
Points
soapy_725 06/30/13 - 06:59 am
1
0
You just can't collect free stuff and give it to the poor. What
Unpublished

kind of charity would that comprise. WalMart collects and redistributes stuff and only manages to make about 5% net profit.

soapy_725
44110
Points
soapy_725 06/30/13 - 07:02 am
1
0
The RUB. You have to have an ORGANIZATION to give
Unpublished

effectively? That has to be done by PROFESSIONALS (paid) utilizing VOLUNTEERS (free time given).

soapy_725
44110
Points
soapy_725 06/30/13 - 07:09 am
1
0
GW says they are building self esteem. As a benefit or pay?
Unpublished

GW says they are giving jobs to those who otherwise would not have a job. My former Fortune 500 company did the same for me?

soapy_725
44110
Points
soapy_725 06/30/13 - 07:12 am
1
0
GW says the low paid jobs are "piece work" for low productive
Unpublished

individuals. They were sorting, washing, displaying and pricing clothes on a store rack. Take a trip to any WalMart at 5am.

soapy_725
44110
Points
soapy_725 06/30/13 - 07:16 am
1
0
Why don't the GW executives volunteer their time?
Unpublished

We have one on the line right now? Some good corporation lend their executive to do these "high end" jobs. Some do.

TrukinRanger
1748
Points
TrukinRanger 06/30/13 - 07:25 am
0
0
Thanks for the info Barry...
Unpublished

Thanks for the info Barry... I was about to post something that would have had all kinds of objections. I'm suspicious of any company/organization that takes donations and sells them.

735
Points
Barry Paschal 06/30/13 - 08:49 am
1
2
Disability wages

Goodwill Industries is just one of 3,400 organizations across the United States that use workers under federal Special Minimum Wage certificates. Typically the workers at these organizations are those with moderate to severe disabilities - mental, physical or both - who receive Social Security disability income and who require significant supervision. The pay in most cases is a token amount and serves to give them a sense of accomplishment when, in most cases, they would not be able to work at all. That's the purpose of the federal program, which has been in place for more than 50 years and is being unfairly maligned. Without it, few of these workers would have any opportunities for employment.

None of the current Goodwill workers in the Augusta area are employed under this program.

InChristLove
22485
Points
InChristLove 06/30/13 - 09:13 am
1
0
Would the person that saw the

Would the person that saw the need to TD my comment like to place a rebuttal? Maybe they would like to give a different perspective on this issue? We are willing to hear your side.

itsanotherday1
48274
Points
itsanotherday1 06/30/13 - 01:06 pm
1
2
Thumbs up to Barry for

Thumbs up to Barry for stating the facts. It is amazing how much misinformation if floating around out here.

Tom Andrews
8
Points
Tom Andrews 07/01/13 - 11:58 am
0
1
Goodwill execs make big bucks while exploiting disabled workers

Mr. Stiff of Goodwill neglected to mention he earned $433,000 in 2010 and $380,00 in 2011. Meanwhile, Goodwill uses an obscure law to justify paying their disabled employees as low as 22 cents an hour!
This isn't some internet nonsense; NBC exposed these practices in a program that aired last week (Rock Center).
Go to NBC for their video, or to this site charitydetectives.com
At that site you'll find the tax filings that show Goodwill executive salaries.
Stop being mislead by Goodwill's propaganda machine; they're making millions for their leaders, but paying pennies to their workers.

Tom Andrews
8
Points
Tom Andrews 07/01/13 - 12:30 pm
0
0
censorship

Well, this is interesting...
I tried to post a comment that laid out the salary that Mr. Stiff (quoted in the article) made in 2010 and 2011, and I mentioned a recent NBC Rock Center segment on Goodwill as evidence Goodwill is not all what they'd like the public to believe. Apparently, the only comments green-lighted come from Goodwill people like Mr. Stiff and Mr. Paschal. Not much of a discussion when an opposing view is censored.

Tom Andrews
8
Points
Tom Andrews 07/01/13 - 12:33 pm
0
0
Salaries

According to their own "990's" (tax returns), Mr. Stiff was paid $433,000 in 2010 and $380,000 (salary and benefits)

Tom Andrews
8
Points
Tom Andrews 07/01/13 - 01:54 pm
0
0
Let’s be clear, Goodwill’s

Let’s be clear, Goodwill’s own tax returns show they provide the greatest employee benefits to their employees and executives. The few disadvantaged that are trained for work are trained to work in their stores, in turn benefiting Goodwill.
As evidenced in this article, Goodwill attacks for-profit bin operators, and that can hurt other charities. Special Olympics of Kentucky has been forced to sue the City of Louisville in an attempt to overturn an ordinance restricting collection bins that was passed via Goodwill’s efforts. Without the funds generated by those collection bins, the programs supported by Special Olympics are seriously affected. In California, Goodwill has spent the past several years and untold sums of $$ to lobby the state legislature for all manner of regulations and restriction on collection bins no matter who they are operated by or who they help.
This story appears to be a release from the national Goodwill PR machine (Mr. Paschal, who commented here, is paid by Goodwill), and it seems to support anti-competitiveness, plain and simple. For profit or non-profit there is room for everyone to compete and the last I checked our economy is built on for-profit principles.

735
Points
Barry Paschal 08/20/13 - 07:51 am
0
0
Please explain

Perhaps Mr. Andrews - if that's his real name - should explain why he's singling out Goodwill for special criticism when 3,400 organizations serve severely disabled clients using the federal Special Minimum Wage certificates. Would he prefer those clients not work at all? Does Mr. Andrews front for one of those for-profit donation companies? Goodwill pays market-rate wages while returning 83 cents of every dollar earned to its mission - enough to earn an A+ rating from the independent Charity Watch. (And in case you missed my note earlier, no Goodwill employees in Augusta are paid using Special Minimum Wage certificates, so perhaps Mr. Andrews should explain the source of his heartburn.)

Back to Top

Top headlines

Kettle donations rise in 2014

After a disappointing showing last year, donations to the Salvation Army's local Red Kettle Campaign have risen nearly 20 percent in 2014.
Search Augusta jobs