We’ve all used them at one time or another—those charity clothing drop-off boxes that you see in shopping mall parking lots and gas stations around the Bay Area. It’s a great way to get rid of that suit that no longer fits while at the same time helping the less fortunate. But Stoney Creek councillor Maria Pearson says there is a wave of suspicious clothing drop-off boxes popping up around her ward and she suspects they are not even supporting charitable activities and it appears she is right. Pearson has presented a motion that will force those who place the clothing boxes around the city to be licensed. “We need to get these boxes under control,” she told the Bay Observer, “it’s not right to have them out there with no controls. The boxes that have caught the councillors’ eye are easy to identify. They are painted blue or orange and are cheaply made from plywood instead of the metal that most legitimate charities use for their drop-off locations. The Bay Observer visited two sites identified by Coun. Pearson—one on Queenston road east of Lake Avenue. Like many charity drop-off boxes it was surrounded by green garbage bags filled with material that had not even been loaded in the bin. The box bore a sign that read, “100% Charity” and identified the charity as “W.M.H.O. 1989”. There was no charitable number listed as is the case with most registered charities. We called the 416 area code telephone number provided on the box and got a voice message. At press time no one had returned our call.
But the mystery may have already been solved by enterprising reporter Cheryl Brown writing for the Barrie Examiner. Brown was able to track down the organization behind the boxes. W.M.HO., it turns out is the World Maha Hindu Organization of Canada. We checked with Revenue Canada’s online database for charities and it showed the organization has never exceeded much more than $30,000 a year in receipts and expenditures. On its website the World Maha Hindu Association describes its mission as the promotion of Hindu culture and religion. No reference is made to charitable activity. Given the relatively small amount of financial activity in W.H.M.O.’s Revenue Canada filings it would appear the clothing business operates outside the charity. Reporter Brown tracked down a trucker named Frank Genovese who is a self-described clothing ‘broker,’ Genovese works with a contractor who finds locations for the blue boxes. He says the W.H.M.O.is paid $3,000 a month for the boxes in the Barrie area. The broker collects the clothes, which are sent to India and Pakistan and resold for a profit. Brown reports that used North American clothing is highly prized in south Asia even if it is stained or torn. The articles are cleaned up and mended before resale. It may be an effective way of providing affordable clothing for poor people, but it is not a charity.
Meanwhile back in Hamilton Councillor Pearson is concerned that in some cases it appears no permission has been given for the placement of the boxes. One box was illegally put on city property and was removed by city staff. “It’s ridiculous how much staff time is spent on these illegal boxes, when our workers have so many more important jobs to do,” the councillor said. Her motion calling for licensing of the boxes followed a staff blitz last year that had some temporary success but was not able to stem the proliferation of the donation boxes and the garbage that they attract.