Earlier this summer, the Idaho Youth Ranch was staring down a strange void in its Boise warehouse. It didnt have enough inventory to get through the winter and, while the nonprofit has opened new thrift stores regularly around the Treasure Valley, its donations had slowed down.
A small public-awareness campaign helped prompt more donations, so the Idaho-based organizations warehouse is almost as full as it should be at this time of year, said spokesman Jeff Myers. As long as donations keep rolling in, well be OK, he said.
One reason for the inventory gap: When sales are up 10 percent and donations are down, you very quickly find yourselves in a hole, he said.
But theres one thing he still worries may be impeding donations: about 100 brown, shed-like donation boxes with Clothing Donation Drop-Off signs around the Treasure Valley that are owned by Gemtext, a clothing and textile recycling business based in North Bend, Wash., east of Seattle.
Its really frustrating to us right now, Myers said one morning, after taking two calls from donors who mistook the sheds for Idaho Youth Ranch donation points.
Other thrift shop operators are worried, too. The local Goodwill organization needs to receive 3,000 to 4,000 new items every day for each of its two stores, said Jason Asher, donor and community relations officer. Donations to Goodwill for its handful of local stores have been strong and steady, but the organization needs that trend to continue, he said.
The nonprofits are concerned that donors think the sheds belong to nonprofit charitable organizations instead of a for-profit company that donates 2 cents per pound of donations to a local charity.
In the Treasure Valley, Gemtexts charity partner is Camp Rainbow Gold, a childhood cancer nonprofit that runs a camp near Ketchum.
A trade group, Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles, has a policy on clothing donation boxes that endorses the need for transparency when it comes to the operation of donation boxes so that donors will know who benefits from their donations, the group says on its website. Without transparency, it is likely that donations will eventually diminish.
Gemtext says its sheds which it calls homes are clearly labeled for recycling, not charitable giving.
Myers took a random box of 72 womens shirts to illustrate the difference. Donated to the Idaho Youth Ranch, the box would generate $270 of revenues for a charity. Donated to Gemtext, it would generate about $1.20, he said.
The woman who co-owns Gemtext, a former stay-at-home mom named Sandy Navidi, said Gemtext doesnt want to siphon money away from good causes.
Gemtext began its Boise-area operations in spring 2011. The companys mission is to recycle ratty drapes, torn bedspreads, pit-stained shirts and other items that cant be sold in thrift stores, Navidi said. For example, it might sell a pound of donated shirts to a business that can make the shirts into rags for factories and broken-down filler for stuffed animals or upholstery.
When people want to donate to nonprofits ... we support their decision, she said. The best way to recycle clothing is to get it into another persons closet, she said.
But unlike thrift stores, she said, we can recycle almost 98 percent of what we get, so we can take things that are stained, stretched out, ripped, burned.
Nothing is too old or too ugly to be repurposed or recycled.
Nonprofit thrift stores also recycle items they cant sell, though they ask donors for items in good shape, not cast-offs.
The Idaho Youth Ranch stresses to donors that it is a financial burden when people donate items in poor shape or items that cannot be resold, such as cribs or tires. The local Goodwill organization last year recycled about 7 million pounds of donations that werent fit for store shelves, Asher said.
Gemtext has provided about $30,000 to Camp Rainbow Gold in the past2 1/2 years, said the camps executive director, Elizabeth Lizberg.
To generate $30,000, Gemtext would have received 1.5 million pounds of donated items.
Were receiving monthly checks, Lizberg said. Camp Rainbow Gold doesnt have the resources to raise money the way Gemtext does, she said.
Each camper costs about $1,500, so the checks helped a lot of kids, she said. The money is more helpful now that the American Cancer Society is cutting its support for local organizations, including Camp Rainbow Gold, she said.
Navidi declined to say how much Gemtext makes.
Goodwill and the Youth Ranch are both thinking about putting their own donation points in parking lots in the Valley.
Audrey Dutton: 377-6448, Twitter: @IDS_Audrey