PALMETTO -- Trying to do a good deed for the community can be deceiving when it comes to donation boxes in Palmetto, officials say.
Take the Reuse Clothes and Shoes box near the corner of Eighth Avenue West and Seventh Street West. There used to be a lot more in Palmetto, but the city passed an ordinance to ban the boxes for safety reasons by June 1.
"For about a year, we spent time going around to see what kind of issues we had as far as appearance," said Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant. "In our travels around the city, we kept noticing these big blue boxes that looked like Goodwill boxes but are not. Some of them were actually in the public right of way and put there without our knowledge."
Bryant said she found out the Reuse Clothes and Shoes boxes are not local or charitable. The company does not show up on the national registry of not-for-profit agencies, and representatives did not return phone calls.
According to the Reuse Clothes and Shoes website, the organization recycles about 48 percent of donated goods thereby reducing textile materials in landfills. The website says recycled materials can end up in thrift shops across the globe, but does not outline whether the materials are donated or sold for profit.
Palmetto decided in March to ban the boxes because they were not anchored and represented a significant threat during a high-wind storm. But Bryant said an underlying issue also led to the ban.
"They were blighting the city with them," said Bryant. "We were at first concerned about safety and the aesthetics of the problem, but we felt these boxes were deceiving the public. People putting do
nated items in these boxes are probably thinking they are doing something good for the community when, in fact, it's going to a for-profit company and taking away from the community."
Bryant said it's become a countywide problem and she has since noticed the boxes in other communities.
"That's what we wanted to regulate," said Bryant. "Through code enforcement we removed the boxes on public property and the ordinance says they all have to go by June 1. But the word is spreading and we are starting to see them disappear."
Eileen Hoffner volunteers at the United Methodist Church Thrift Shop and said she became aware of the for-profit boxes sometime ago.
"I noticed them at first because they are such eyesores to the community," said Hoffner. "Then I realized they were trying to associate themselves with a legitimate nonprofit and taking the money those boxes raise out of the community. Legitimate organizations like ours keeps 100 percent of it in the community."
Hoffner called the business practice "shrewd," and is certain it has hurt local charities.
Phyllis Graham runs the Hope Church Thrift Shop. She was not aware the boxes belonged to a for-profit company.
"I think it's absolutely ridiculous," she said.
Graham said she understands there is need elsewhere, "but if your neighbor is hungry and naked, your neighbor is who you can serve right now."
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.