Sunday, November 18, 2012
This is not a charity's drop box
To be fair, the drop box that sits next to Bert's Red Apple on 41st Avenue E. has a notice right on the front which reads: "USAgain is a for profit clothes collection company. Deposits are not tax deductable [sic]." Yet this for-profit company (USAgain, that is, not Bert's) has been accused of misleading unsuspecting (and, apparently, un-reading) donors who don't realize that their dropped-off used clothes, phones and shoes are simply being sold and the proceeds going to enrich the company's owner.
We were unaware of the controversy surrounding USAgain until a reader asked us to investigate why Bert's allows access to its property for the purpose of a non-charitable drop box. Our reader directed us to a November 2009 KIRO-TV investigation into USAgain: "Millions in Clothing Donations Diverted from Charity" (the story can be found here). As the station concluded, "In reality, USAgain sells the majority of your toys, sweatshirts, shoes and bundles of blankets, to international used clothing brokers in Russia, South America and Africa. It might get to a needy person, but they'll likely have to pay for it."
We asked Bert's about the situation and got the response that the store is well aware that USAgain is a for-profit company and that there hasn't been a single complaint about Bert's providing space for the drop box. We were told, rather indirectly, that if there were to be complaints the store might revisit the issue.
It appears that USAgain may have cleaned up its public relations act since the two-year-old KIRO report. The company's website (www.usagain.com) presents the organization as an environmental recycler that partners with communities and charities to re-use items that might otherwise end up in a landfill or worse: "By putting them [used clothes] back in the use cycle we conserve precious natural resources, prevent greenhouse gas emissions and save landfill space. What's more, the clothes are given a second life at affordable prices for people who can't afford brand new clothes. It's a win-win-win proposition."
Maybe so, but there are charitable alternatives to giving used clothing to a non-charity such as USAgain (The Northwest Center, for example). When it comes to getting rid of your old stuff, the Bert's drop box offers Madison Parkers a clearcut case of caveat lector (let the reader beware).
That would be you.