Why are clothing donation boxes proliferating in my neighborhood?
May 11, 2013 8:26 AM   Subscribe

I live in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and have noticed that, over the past several months, a sizable number of clothing donation boxes have appeared on sidewalks and in little disused nooks of urban space. There are three on my block alone that have sprung up, seemingly overnight, within the last couple months. What's going on?

I'm referring to the big, steel boxes -- each about the size of a commercial refrigerator -- that have large levered drop-compartments to accept donations. Most of them are painted or stickered with the name(s) of the charitable organizations that are ostensibly collecting and donating the deposited items.

My question is: Why? Why so many, why at this particular moment, why in this neighborhood? Also: who is behind the placement of these boxes? There's a fair bit of infrastructure needed: the boxes themselves, trucks, cranes, workers, not to mention a system of collecting, sorting, and dealing with the donated materials. This is not just two guys and a van.

I am somewhat suspicious about the "charitable organizations" whose names are on the sides of the boxes, but I can't put my finger on why. Maybe I'm too skeptical, though...

Some data points:
- While I don't remember the names of those charitable organizations, they have struck me more than once as sounding "generic" -- along the lines of "NYC Clothing Charities," e.g.
- I noticed, just this morning, that one of the new boxes had been slapped with a sticker by some branch of the city government. The notice indicated that this particular box had to be removed within 30 days, because such boxes are not permitted on NYC sidewalks. Another small piece of evidence that these things are perhaps a little shady.
- Crown Heights is gentrifying at a pace heretofore unseen in human history. What was until very recently a predominantly middle-aged West Indian neighborhood is transforming unbelievably rapidly into a neighborhood favored by white 20- and 30-somethings. It occurs to me that perhaps this demographic shift has something to do with the proliferation of donation boxes -- the logic being that, since the young white kids turn over their wardrobes pretty often, there's an opportunity to collect and profit from their castoffs. But do donated clothes and shoes really represent a solid revenue stream?

All of this is speculative. I'd like to know more about the "system" behind these boxes, and would be grateful if you could point me to resources where I could learn more.
posted by Dr. Wu to Grab Bag (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I have seen a lot of these not just in Crown Heights but in lower-income parts of Brooklyn all over: Canarsie, East New York, East Flatbush. So I don't know that it's specifically gentrification-related.

A lot of these bins are run by for-profit companies that resell the donated clothes to recycling companies overseas.

Another article on for-profit clothing donation boxes.
posted by Jeanne at 8:42 AM on May 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: They move, they ocme and go. Lots of time some kind of scam. Or profit tyring to look like non profit.

Happens in suburbia, too. A few legit ones, not so much. They are so bad here that Goodwill down here are removing the small, attended collection sites and just starting up storefronts instead. The only ones that are "legitish" seem to be Better World Books.

Around here, they are phoned in from time to time, stickered, or hauled off by code enforcement. There was a pair near my office I kept calling in because people woudl break into them, and/or just dump crap on the ground around them, huge bags of goods getting spoiled by the weather.
posted by tilde at 8:43 AM on May 11, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks, Jeanne and tilde. Those links are really informative. Jeanne's first link mentions a company called USAgain, which, now that I see it printed, I recognize as one of the "generic" charity names I referred to.

Looks like my skepticism is not unjustified. I didn't know about these for-profit donation boxes. Nasty business.

I'd love to get any further info or data points, however anecdotal, that you all may have. Maybe I could help to clean up this neighborhood a bit before we move out in a month!
posted by Dr. Wu at 8:51 AM on May 11, 2013

There's for profit "free" stores also, the good items go on craigslist, the crap is free. Never assume good intentions.
posted by Mblue at 9:04 AM on May 11, 2013

Response by poster: Remarkably, in the time between my morning dog- walk and the posting of my question, the stickered donation box was removed!
posted by Dr. Wu at 9:29 AM on May 11, 2013

Jeanne and Tilde beat me to it! My mother-in-law works for Goodwill and boxes like this are a big problem for them. They set up--illegally--in the same parking lots where Goodwill has their donation trucks, and people don't realize that they are for-profits not charities.
posted by apricot at 10:33 AM on May 11, 2013

At the other end of teh profitable value chain is the mitumba industry

Gentrification means cool, trendy stuff being more likely than granma's tweeds
posted by infini at 12:22 PM on May 11, 2013

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