Our View | Be aware of where your charitable giving goes

Clothing donation boxes near the North Atherton Street Weis Markets on Friday, April 4, 2014.
Clothing donation boxes near the North Atherton Street Weis Markets on Friday, April 4, 2014. CDT photo

To be sure, Goodwill Industries of North Central Pennsylvania helps people and the environment.

It sells inexpensive donated clothing, household goods and other items, allowing families to stretch budgets and reducing the amount of material sent to landfills.

But the nonprofit apparently holds less than charitable feelings toward some competition.

The bickering we have seen among otherwise positive organizations is unnecessary and could turn off potential donors.

On its website and in a recent letter campaign, Goodwill has called attention to clothing and shoe donation boxes that USAgain, Planet Aid, Community Aid, New Life Recycling and other outside organizations have placed in Centre County. The dispute was chronicled in the April 6 CDT and at CentreDaily.com.

Goodwill urges donors to think twice and learn more about the groups before adding to their boxes. Its bone of contention is that the others, not all of which claim nonprofit status, are siphoning off goods that could help local households.

“It’s on the rise; that’s all I can tell you,” said Ray Donati, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of North Central Pennsylvania, which includes Centre among the 13 counties in its service region.

“We’re starting to see that as an impact,” he added.

Donations kept in the area, Goodwill argues, serve another beneficial purpose by supporting outlets that provide local jobs.

If not Goodwill, people should consider giving to other charities in their communities if they want to aid their neighbors, Donati said.

In Centre County, for example, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, FaithCentre, New Hope Thrift, the State College Woman’s Club, Centre Peace and others all accept donations for thrift stores. So does the Salvation Army, which helps families in need but does not have a local retail outlet.

Many churches and service organizations also collect clothing and other goods.

“We just want people to donate locally,” Donati said. “That’s our message. Keep it local.”

That’s not a bad sentiment, though in reality, not every donation Goodwill accepts stays in communities.

As with any such charity, Goodwill receives plenty of unsalable junk that it must pay to have hauled away.

“That’s always a problem for us,” Donati said. “A lot of times we get trash with our treasures.”

Even so, he said, Goodwill has cut its waste and tipping fees by about half over the past several years by selling to recyclers. Sometimes, rejected clothing is baled up for overseas shipment by third parties.

In addition, Donati said, his organization occasionally transfers surplus items from one outlet to another in its region if needed — though it limits the practice because of transportation costs.

Most of the time, Goodwill sells usable donations at the store that accepted them, Donati said. Even if it doesn’t, he said, the revenue generated still helps maintain local outlets — something the box groups can’t say.

“Other companies, everything is leaving the area,” Donati said.

We’re all for the idea of helping our neighbors, and we applaud Goodwill for its philosophy and efforts.

But no organization has a monopoly on aid. Most for-profit corporations give back to their communities in other ways.

Donations inside the boxes in question may not help Centre County families, but someone, somewhere, will benefit.

And that’s the choice for donors, who should follow Goodwill’s recommendation and do a little homework researching box charities before donating. That’s sound advice, after all, for any philanthropy.

The bottom line is this: If it’s important to help local residents, donate to local charities.

But if you just want to be rid of unused stuff, consider the boxes as an alternative to the garbage can.

Every item kept out of dumps helps the planet.

These days, Mother Earth may be the neediest of us all.