By Ryan Flanagan
Kitchener Post staff
Donating used clothes to a charity drop-off box might not always be the good deed it appears to be — in some cases, the clothing might be sold overseas or to secondhand stores with little or no money going to charity.
It sounds like a story out of a distant land or even a novel, but not only is it real, it’s happening in Kitchener.
Ray of Hope is a local organization providing youth and community services. In December, a Ray of Hope staff member was driving by one of the group’s downtown properties and noticed a mysterious yellow box.
The box had signs denoting it as a clothing donation box for a group known as ECCA — no full name given. Nobody at Ray of Hope gave the group the go-ahead to put the box there and nobody knew where it had come from or what ECCA was.
“I e-mailed them and I phoned them and said, ‘Listen, you didn’t ask permission, you need to remove your box,’” said Ray of Hope CEO Harry Whyte.
Whyte’s messages were eventually returned by an ECCA representative promising to remove the box — although it might take a while.
In late January, with the box still sitting at Ray of Hope, a CBC investigation revealed the business of selling donated clothes brings in tens of millions of dollars annually from Canada alone.
Whyte watched the CBC piece and was less intrigued by the findings than by something else he noticed: the bin shown in the clip looked exactly lik the one placed on Ray of Hope’s property.
“It’s like they just took it right out of the CBC news article and put it on our property,” he said.
Whyte fired off another e-mail, again asking for the box to be removed. He never heard back.
A few days later, another ECCA box appeared on another Ray of Hope property, again completely unsolicited. Ray of Hope had been considering the simple solution of dismantling the first box, and the appearance of the second convinced them to do just that.
Adding to the annoyance is that Ray of Hope does accept clothing donations as well — they don’t use donation boxes, but they gave away 24,000 articles of clothing in 2011 alone.
“People can bring clothing down, donate it and know that it’s going to either our guests or one of the two or three other agencies that we share the clothes with,” said Whyte. He also said ECCA and their ilk are making things harder for groups like the Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul and Goodwill, who also use donation boxes but actually do give away the clothing they receive.
Calls from the Kitchener Post to the number on the ECCA box went immediately to a full voicemail box. E-mail messages were not returned.
For Whyte and the rest of Ray of Hope, the boxes might be a nuisance, but the solution is straightforward.
“We’ll just keep taking them apart,” he said.