Overflowing clothing donation bins have become more of a liability than a golden goose for Canadian charities.
They’re urging people who’ve been spring cleaning while stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic to hold on to their giveaway items and not to drop them off for charity.
“The things that have been left now, you can just think of them as garbage, unfortunately,” said Sean Shannon, president and CEO of National Diabetes Trust, the social enterprise arm of Diabetes Canada. “It’s sitting outside there in the weather this time of year in Canada. Once things get rained on and get wet and mouldy, it becomes garbage.”
When thrift stores were labelled non-essential businesses and temporarily shuttered two weeks ago, it broke the supply chain for used goods and clothing, Shannon said. The National Diabetes Trust has 5,000 donation boxes across the country and handles 100 million pounds of the stuff annually, generating $5 million for Diabetes Canada.
“It’s an important revenue stream for programming, research, sending kids with Type 1 diabetes to diabetes camp. It’s a very material part of our charity and I’m sure for other charities too,” Shannon said.
When the thrift stores closed, Shannon had to lay off 500 employees. Now he worries about who’s going to pay to clean out the boxes and dispose of it in a landfill.
“Historically, we keep the bins and the surrounding area clean. But we’re not in business-as-usual environment. Someone should recognize that this is not normal and it’s not the charities’ fault. It would be unreasonable to expect charities to clean this up and take it to the dump. That’s expensive.”
“We’re in a COVID-19 world and I don’t think it’s fair that the government would say to charities — which are already hugely hit by COVID-19 — ‘This is your problem to deal with.’ That’s not acceptable.”
American-based Value Village has sent a notice to its customers as well: “If you’re using this time inside to declutter, we recommend holding on to your donations of clothing and household goods until we reopen and are able to accept them on behalf of our nonprofit partners,” said the email sent by Value Village CEO Mark Walsh.
Yellow caution tape blocks the entrance to the community donation centre at the rear of the Value Village on Hazeldean Road along with a sign telling donors not to leave items there until the store has reopened.
A survey of donation boxes around Ottawa revealed some stuffed to overflowing with more bags on the ground beside them, while others had been taped shut. At one box in Manotick, an employee for the MS Society of Canada was collecting and tidying the site.
“It’s a great time to do the de-clutter and we appreciate you setting things aside for your chosen charity,” Shannon said. “But you must wait until the signal light goes green when we will all get back to doing this.”