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COLUMN: A Cautionary Tale

What exactly are the 'Planet Aid' boxes?

Gold is a color associated with autumn, school buses, and cautionary road signs. Recently my friends and I have puzzled over the gold bins for clothing collection appearing at three sites in Manlius and two in Fayetteville. The bins are not associated with local offices of the Rescue Mission or the Salvation Army, or any other local organization.

“Planet Aid” is the name on the bins to collect clothing and shoes. The donated items are used not for distribution or sale to the poor (locally or in the USA), but for re-sale to recycling companies in the US and abroad. The proceeds from these sales are then used to support Planet Aid projects overseas, principally it seems in Africa, namely Malawi; the Caribbean, Asia and South America are also listed as sites for Planet Aid projects. None of their projects are in the USA, or to clothe needy persons in the area.

Planet Aid, according to their Facebook page and non-profit filings, considers themselves to be primarily a recycling organization – removing used clothes, shoes, and books (?) from the waste stream. The Planet Aid Regional Office for Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse is in Rochester, NY, where at the University of Rochester, Planet Aid provided re-cycling for students as they emptied out their dorms at the end of the semester.

Planet Aid has been around for several years. The Syracuse New Times published an exposé of the organization in 2009. It seems controversy follows Planet Aid throughout the fifteen US states wherever they have established a foothold: Fox29 in the Philadelphia area, 49ABC news in Topeka, MO, Fox5 in Washington, DC – all have filed investigative reports critical of Planet Aid. Videos of these live broadcasts are available on YouTube and elsewhere on the Internet.

Criticisms of the organization, besides its not providing direct aid to the poor, Planet Aid received the lowest possible rating from the American Philanthropic Institute – an “F” – due to the fact that most of their funds go to overhead (salaries, rents, storage facilities, property maintenance and transportation), with as little as 23 percent going to their philanthropic projects abroad. Again, according to their web site, they view their main contribution as recycling unwanted items.

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