Friday, July 31, 2009
Questions raised over Planet Aid financials and affiliates
The appearance of the yellow Planet Aid box at Kimball’s at Bates Farm a couple of weeks ago prompted the Mosquito to take a look at local options for recycling used goods. In the process it was discovered that some organizations that collect clothing and household articles are highly recommended by watchdog organizations, while others receive low grades. Are the goods you drop off going to a worthy cause – or not?
Dick Lamburn, spokesperson for the ice cream stand at Kimball’s, says he was approached by a sales girl a couple of weeks ago regarding placing a Planet Aid collection box on the property. Each week the organization appears to empty the box. “There’s nothing involved with us except placing it here,” he says, noting, “It’s used pretty frequently. Somebody is always stopping.”
But what Lamburn did not know is that a Fox 5 investigation, posted on the website www.myfoxdc.com on May 12, reported that Planet Aid charities are managed by an organization outlawed in Britain, France and Belgium. Known as The International Humana People to People Movement, this organization was said to give few of its funds to charity. Reporter Tisha Thompson adds, “Instead, European investigators say the money paid for multi-million dollar homes, a yacht, and off-shore bank accounts controlled by a Danish man named Amdi Pedersen.” Pedersen is wanted for embezzlement and tax evasion in Denmark.
In the report, a Planet Aid spokesperson denies any connection with Pedersen. But the investigation notes many of the charities Planet Aid claims to support have the same address in South Africa and are not listed as charities with the South African government. Another on-line resource, religiousnewsblog.com alleges that schools supported by Planet Aid in California and Massachusetts are actually part of “Tvid,” founded by Pedersen, which has been classified as a cult by the Danish government.
Truth? Or scurrilous rumor? I e-mailed Planet Aid General Manager Fred Olsson and received this response: “May I suggest that you download our latest annual report from our website? It explains in detail how the money is used and how the clothing is used as well. Here is the link: www.planetaid.org/files/planetaid_ar_2007.pdf.pdf
He adds, “Planet Aid started in Boston in 1997. Since then we have opened offices and warehouses in 15 locations in the U.S. where we collect used clothing and shoes. In 2008 we collected 105 million pounds of clothing, which we sold for $26 million and we received $15 million in Federal contracts for programs in Malawi and Mozambique. Of a total income of $41 million, we spent $34 million on our programs, $2.5 million on administration and $4.1 million on fundraising and development. That is a ratio of 84% to programs, 6% to administration and 10% to fundraising and development.”
Charitywatch.org has assigned Planet Aid an “F”
However, there appear to be questions about Planet Aid’s reporting. The American Institute of Philanthropy web site Charitywatch.org has assigned Planet Aid an “F”. It takes issue with the organization’s characterizing clothing sales as programmatic expenses because recycling helps the environment. In other words, the organization claims its moneymaking activities are charity. “It would be like Wal-Mart claiming that its main purpose is to help low-income people have a higher standard of living by selling them less expensive merchandise,” says AIP. It concludes that in a 2004 tax statement, “Planet Aid reports a 94% program ratio, whereas AIP believes the ratio earns the group an ‘F’ grade at 23%.”
Other charities accept used goods
CharityWatch assigns The Salvation Army an A for its use of funds. Goodwill is not on the on-line A-list, but the Better Business Bureau gives it a full recommendation, noting 66% of funds go to programs, 1% to fundraising, and 33% to administration. Big Brother/Big Sister has an AIP rating of “A+.”
There is a Salvation Army box at the Carlisle transfer station. They take clothing, furniture, household items, jewelry, toys, and sporting goods. No appliances or electronics. For more information, check www.use.salvationarmy.org or call 1-978-568-8155. My own experience is that the transfer station box is sometimes poorly maintained with donations spilling out and subject to the weather. I have also called multiple times for a pick up without getting any response.
Goodwill Industries (www.goodwillmass.org) maintains a collection van at Crosby’s Market in Concord. Information is available by calling 1-617-868-6330.
Big Brother/Big Sister accepts used clothing, shoes, and small household items. Their trucks regularly come to Carlisle and will pick up items from your porch or doorstep. Call 1-800-483-5503 for pick-up dates.
Another option is Household Goods Recycling of Massachussetts, at 530 Main Street in Acton (www.hgrm.org) by the post office, which accepts a variety of household goods and furniture and even arranges for volunteers to repair and spruce up donated items. Call 1-978-635-1763, or check their web site for a long list of what is wanted and not wanted.
For more expensive clothing, one might try Dress for Success (c/o the Family Justice Center 989 Commonwealth Ave, Boston. Ma. 02215 1-617-779-2177, (Dressforsuccess.org) which provides work clothing, shoes, jewelry, accessories, as well as career counseling to needy women searching for jobs. The organization is in Boston and does not pick up. Check their website for days that donations can be dropped off and a list of wanted items and sizes.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul has a collection box at St. Irene Church on East Street. For information, call 1-800-675-2882.
Carlisle is generous
There seems to be an opportunity in Carlisle for a well-placed, well-maintained spot to donate second-hand clothing and shoes. Olsson of Planet Aid reports that, “The box at Kimball Farm in Carlisle was placed there about a week ago. People in Carlisle seem to be generous because 350 pounds of donated clothing has already been picked up from the box.” He adds, “The clothing from Carlisle is brought to Planet Aid in Holliston. If you are interested, we’d love for you to visit our office and warehouse in Holliston.” ∆
© 2009 The