The Laurinburg City Council decided this week not to allow a national non-profit organization to keep its clothing donation bins in the city.
The decision following complaints from various local non-profits stating that Planet Aid’s donation bins take away from local donations.
Planet Aid, which has a North Carolina office in Durham, placed large yellow clothing donation bins around the city earlier this year. Located on private property, the bins will have to be removed within the next two weeks, according to the decision.
Planet Aid received permission from property owners to place the bins, but not permission from the city. Because the placement of donation bins is not addressed by current city ordinances, it would require an amendment by the city council to be permitted.
Representatives of the company, which has received criticism in the past from Better Business Bureau officials for not keeping donations local, attending a May 15 meeting of the city planning board to defend the organization.
At that meeting Planet Aid’s Megan Atkins said the bins “free up the landfill” from clothing items, some of which our recycled and some of which go to “Asia, Africa and Latin America to help those in need.” According to Atkins, none of what Planet Aid collects actually stays local.
Criticizing the practice of sending local donations abroad, Laurinburg Mayor Tommy Parker said that “anything taking away resources from a community as challenged as ours has got to be working against us.”
Members of several local non-profit organizations criticized Planet Aid for condescending to them about recycling at this week’s council meeting.
“They came down here and thought they were teaching us something about recycling,” said Helping Hand volunteer Julian Butler. According to Butler, local charities are involved in recycling operations similar to those engaged in by Planet Aid. “Except what we do stays local.”
Scotland Memorial Hospital CEO Greg Wood also spoke out against allowing Planet Aid to continue to place its bins in the city, explaining that the city has “scarce resources.” “We need to help our own community,” Wood said.
Youngstown, Ohio non-profits had similar concerns about Planet Aid in 2008. At that time, Patricia Rose of the Better Business Bureau warned customers “that their clothing and monetary donations (were) not being used to support local families.”
Rose also charged that the BBB “questions how (Planet Aid) is spending consumer donations.”
Laurinburg Planning and Community Development Director Brandi Deese concurred with that characterization of Planet Aid, saying that “our opinion is that they may not be a true non-profit.”
According to Deese, the city had members of the Laurinburg Police Department look into Planet Aid’s business dealings.
“They were not able to find too much for us, and what they did find was very vague” said Deese, who also criticized what she considered to be sparse information on the Planet Aid donation receptacles.
“There is very little information on the boxes to give you an idea of the organization,” Deese said.
Started in 1997 in Boston, Planet Aid is regarded by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) non-profit.
Deese said that she spoke recently with Planet Aid’s North Carolina representative Sam Ebeneezer. “He talked around the issue” of how much Planet Aid “actually does donate,” she said.
Planet Aid has refused comment beyond stating that they did not receive any letters from the City of Laurinburg notifying them of the council meeting during which their bins were considered.
According to Deese, letters were sent via registered mail notifying Planet Aid about the meeting.
“We also sent them a letter asking that the bins be removed within 15 days,” said Deese.