LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - You've probably seen them in parking lots and near gas stations. They're green donation bins encouraging you to drop off clothes and shoes, and donate to their non-profit organization. Many questions have been raised regarding their funding. Where are the clothes really going?
To our team who found the bins around town, they certainly look legitimate. They're labeled Gaia Movement USA, a non-profit, environmental organization recognized by the IRS, but local non-profits collecting clothes are skeptical.
"A lot of people, they don't look at the boxes completely and they assume that they are a local charity with local ties. And the reality is that the vast majority of the boxes that we're seeing in Lexington are from out of state interests who are here just to collect clothing," notes David Cobb with Goodwill Kentucky. Cobb says transparency is key when running a charitable organization.
Getting information from Gaia was difficult. Our team called the number on the bin, and the man that picked up referred us to headquarters in Chicago. We reached out to Chicago, and calls weren't returned. The website directs you to an attached valuation guide to learn more about donations, but we never found the guide on their site.
Salvation Army's Nancy Beauchamp notes, "in this day and age when everybody's vying for contributions or donations I think we have to be smart consumers. Can we contact the head person? Can we get a tour of what they say they do?"
The Salvation Army has donation bins set up around Lexington. Major Beauchamp say the difference between theirs and Gaia's is that their donations stay local.
"They go straight to the center in Cincinnati, and our people sort those clothes, and then we sell them in our thrift stores, or we process them to be sold overseas, but the money stays here in our community."
The Better Business Bureau says their review of Gaia Movement is in progress. They aren't yet rated with the BBB.
"It's only in the last two years when the boxes have appeared that our donations have begun to drop, and this year we're down thousands of donations," notes Cobb.
Nonprofit leaders ask wherever you decide to donate, make sure you know a little about where your goods are going.
"Boxes aren't all bad, but people just need to make sure they have the correct information that they know who they're giving to. That they trust them," says Cobb.
Recently, Bowling Green and Louisville passed city ordinances regarding the set-up, general ownership, and placement of donation bins.
UPDATE: GAIA Movement USA reached out to WKYT when they saw our story air. They replied to a list of questions we submitted. You can find their answers below.