New clothing-recycle boxes worry Treasure Valley thrift shops

The organizations say donors may not realize they are giving to a for-profit company.

adutton@idahostatesman.comSeptember 8, 2013 

  • WHAT HAPPENS TO YOUR DONATIONS?

    Nonprofits: Donations to local charitable organizations, such as Idaho Youth Ranch or Goodwill, are generally sorted at a local or regional center. The merchandise that is in good condition heads to a store, where it is sold by charity employees or volunteers. Some items are recycled similar to how Gemtext operates. For example, industrial buyers will recycle Goodwill’s old clothing scraps into rags.

    Gemtext: The company picks up donations and transports them to regional warehouses, where workers sort the clothing. Some items are sent to thrift stores in the U.S., though Gemtext co-owner Sandy Navidi did not say whether the company is paid by those stores. Other items are sold at markets in other countries, including developing nations. Some items are used in disaster relief by organizations, such as the American Red Cross, when they need large quantities of clothing, Gemtext says. Other materials can be turned into industrial rags, or their fibers can be shredded and rewoven or turned into products such as playground chips and insulation.

    Tax deductions: Donors may be eligible for tax deductions and/or tax credits for items they give to nonprofits, but they cannot claim tax deductions or credits for donations to Gemtext.

  • ABOUT AUDREY DUTTON

    Audrey Dutton covers retail business for the Statesman. She is a fan of local thrift stores and recycling.

Earlier this summer, the Idaho Youth Ranch was staring down a strange void in its Boise warehouse. It didn’t 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 organization’s 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, “we’ll 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 there’s 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.

“It’s 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, Gemtext’s 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 women’s 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 doesn’t want to siphon money away from good causes.

Gemtext began its Boise-area operations in spring 2011. The company’s mission is to recycle ratty drapes, torn bedspreads, pit-stained shirts and other items that can’t 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 person’s 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 can’t 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 weren’t fit for store shelves, Asher said.

Gemtext has provided about $30,000 to Camp Rainbow Gold in the past2 1/2 years, said the camp’s executive director, Elizabeth Lizberg.

To generate $30,000, Gemtext would have received 1.5 million pounds of donated items.

“We’re receiving monthly checks,” Lizberg said. Camp Rainbow Gold doesn’t 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

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