By Jessica Lovell
Not everybody who drops a bag of used clothing into a donation bin cares what happens to it. But many who do believe they are helping a charity.
A concern that sometimes these donations might not be going to charity prompted Tracy Marchesich to start asking questions about some donation boxes that are popping up around the city.
“It’s just kind of a check in your gut,” said Marchesich, the Guelph Food Bank community liaison, about what didn’t seem right about the boxes. She spotted the first one on a morning “graffiti check” – a walk around the block at the food bank’s Crimea Street building to check the area for overnight vandalism. The red and yellow wooden box at the corner of Crimea and Alma streets had not been there before.
A couple days later, there was another one just down the street, at the plaza on Edinburgh Road, she said.
It is a little mysterious how the bins just seem to grow up overnight, but the greater mystery seems to be what happens to the contents of the bins.
“It’s important that the donors know that their donations are going where they intend them to go, because it’s hard enough for charities (to raise donations),” said Marchesich. “If somebody gets burned by a charity, they’re less likely to donate to other charities.”
The label on the bin features the letters “E.C.C.A.” under a logo featuring the head of an eagle in the centre of recycling arrows. In smaller script it reads, “Helping community one piece of clothing at a time.”
There is a phone number on the bin and an email address, as well as a number listed as a not-for-profit organization number.
Marchesich tried both phoning and emailing, as well as looking up the organization number. “We couldn’t find it registered as a business or as a charity,” she said.
Telephone and email enquiries by the Tribune were ignored.
But online research – which led mainly to a series of unfavourable comment posts about these bins in a variety of cities – led to another phone number and a name on a Brantford newspaper website. Mike Lambkin admitted to being the man behind the bins, identifying the organization as Eagle County Community Association and promising to email specifics, before ending the telephone call.
The email sent – from firstname.lastname@example.org – described “Eagle Country (possibly a typo) Community Association” as a “non-profit organization dedicated to helping and supporting the needy, unfortunate and underprivileged people through or by donating to various charitable organizations, foundations, religious institutions, shelters etc.”
The organization itself is not a charity – the distinction being in the tax status. A non-profit is allowed to make a profit, so long as profits go back into the organization to further its goals. The email went on to say ECCA has teamed up with GEUCR (Green Earth Used Clothing Recycling) “to reuse, and recycle instead of disposing.”
It didn’t list specifically what charitable organizations it helps, nor did it say anything about the monetary value of its donations.
Significant portions of the email seem to be borrowed directly from a website for a Virginia organization called Green Earth Recycling, which openly admits to being a for-profit business. An email to that organization generated a prompt reply saying there is no affiliation.
The Other Brother’s restaurant owner Karim Ladhani didn’t make too much of the two ECCA bins that appeared on his York Road property, assuming the contents support a charity of some kind.
“I think they’re a little unsightly,” he said. “I’m lucky they’re off to the side.”
Ladhani is busy with the work of turning the former Cagney’s restaurant on York Road into The Other Brother’s sister restaurant – to be named York Road Kitchen and Chocolate Bar. The bins “just showed up” one-at-a-time by the driveway of the site, he said.
No one asked Ladhani’s permission to place them there, and he hasn’t been too impressed with some of the stuff that’s been dumped beside them. Still, he’s not adverse to the bins being there, if they are for a good cause. “If the cause was solid, I would support it,” he said.
Just down the road from the restaurant site is another donation bin much like the ECCA bins, except it’s blue. Its sign reads Environmental Recyclers Canada Inc. and claims it supports charities.
Like the ECCA bins, the blue bins have been the subject of media reports in other communities questioning the charitable nature of the organization.