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N4T Investigators: Deceptive Donations? - KVOA | KVOA.com | Tucson, Arizona

N4T Investigators: Deceptive Donations?

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TUCSON - You've probably seen the big bins all over town; more seem to pop up every day.  They're there for you to donate used clothing or other items.  

The News 4 Tucson Investigators spoke with several people near the bins at Broadway and Pantano. Every one of them said they'd prefer to donate to a non-profit as opposed to a for-profit agency, and that it be a local charity vs. one from out of town. 

Take a close look at the bins, and you'll see on some of them in very small print, that the items you drop off go to for-profit businesses. That is perfectly legal, of course;  just for most people, it is not preferable.  

You probably haven't heard of some of the agencies named on the bins and might not know the local connection. For example, Huruma Orphanage Project is on 19 bins in Tucson.  The orphanage is in Kenya. It gets paid a portion of every pound of donated clothing by the recycler, based in Phoenix.  The clothes are collected by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tucson.  Big Brothers says it receives between 4,000 lbs. and 6,000 lbs. of clothing per week, which it then sells to thrift stores.

Some bins don't say anything on them about where your donation is going.  The clothes you put in those marked "Atlas Global" go to Epic Thrift stores, according to a letter sent to customers by Epic in November. Epic has seven stores in the Phoenix area, but none in Tucson.  

Grace Kelley is the board president for the Southern Arizona Children's Advocacy Center  The non-profit treats neglected and abused children, and helps gather evidence against their abusers. Kelley says, "The money we receive stays right here in southern Arizona to provide services for children."

The agency has about four dozen bins for used clothing in Tucson, all clearly marked that it's a non-profit.  Kelley says 18 months ago they were collecting about 50,000 lbs. of clothing a month. Now with additional competition from for-profits, Kelley says they're down to 30,000 lbs. per month.

Kelley said, "People assume when they're donating clothing that they're going to help the needy or people in need of some sort. And it's not true." 

Ryan Foster is a spokesman with the Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona. We asked him what people should know before donating. He said, "You're going to want to check the label on the outside of the donation bin. Something you can do to make sure that these are actually going to the charities and they're associated with the charities, is to either call the property manager of the parking lot that these are sitting on, or you can call the charity directly and ask them if they have a box out here."  

If you would like to donate to the Southern Arizona Children's Advocacy Center, or see a list of where its clothing bins are located, click here: www.cacaz.org.

Many charities have contracts with recycling companies who collect the used items, and the charity gets either a percentage or a guaranteed amount of money from the donations. You can find out more about charities at numerous web sites. Here are some of them:

Charity Navigator

Charity Watch

Give.org

If you have a story you'd like us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line, 520-955-4444.

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