Some officials in Lenawee County are challenging whether to allow a group’s clothing collection boxes.
ADRIAN – The yellow clothing donation boxes set up around Lenawee County by a group called Planet Aid have some local officials seeing red.
They’re questioning how much of Planet Aid’s money actually goes to humanitarian aid. They’re concerned about the prospect of hurting local charities that accept clothing donations. And they’re also worried by claims that Planet Aid is linked to a Danish organization called Tvind, or the Teachers Group, which some people consider a cult – claims that Planet Aid says are unfounded.
Greg DuMars, an Adrian city commissioner who sits on the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals, said what he’s found on the Internet makes him skeptical about Planet Aid.
“My personal take is that it’s a scam. They’re a front for this cult,” DuMars said.
But Sandy Donegan, production and collection manager for Planet Aid’s Detroit office, said the allegations are false.
“We are not affiliated with the Teachers Group,” she said.
Donegan said when she became aware of the rumors about her employer, “they frightened me.” But when she investigated the reports, she said, she discovered that “they’re not founded in any truth and they’re really misleading.”
“I wouldn’t be working here if there were anything shady going on,” she said.
Planet Aid’s southeast Michigan operation includes collection boxes in Deerfield, Palmyra, Chelsea, Dundee and Blissfield, Donegan said. Several boxes were set up earlier this year in Adrian, but the Zoning Board of Appeals denied permission to put them back.
Donegan said Planet Aid sells the donated clothes and uses the money to fund development projects in Africa, Central America and other areas that need humanitarian aid.
Beverly Lyell, executive director of the local Goodwill chapter, questioned how much of Planet Aid’s money goes to services and how much goes back into funding the organization itself.
In 2004, according to a financial statement provided by Planet Aid, the group took in about $9.02 million, most of it from contributions and the sale of used clothing. About $2.02 million, or 22 percent, went directly to Planet Aid’s humanitarian programs, while 6 percent went to administrative expenses and fund-raising. The majority of the money – $6.6 million, or 73 percent – went back into the clothing collection operation.
“That’s a very high percentage,” said Lyell. She said Goodwill spends about 10 percent of its income on overhead costs, with 90 percent going directly to services.
Linda Ballmer, operations specialist for the Better Business Bureau in Toledo, said the BBB recommends that charities devote no more than 35 percent of their revenues to operating expenses.
Donegan said expenses associated with clothing collection include buying the large yellow boxes and paying drivers and warehouse workers. She said she didn’t know if Planet Aid’s numbers were similar to those of other organizations, but, she added, “I know we do have a lot of expansion projects going on so we can have a higher yield of donations to go overseas.”
Jae Guetschow is village president for Blissfield, where one of Planet Aid’s collection boxes is located. He said he’s concerned that people donating old clothes to Planet Aid will assume their clothes are being given to victims of Hurricane Katrina and other recent natural disasters.
“People, I think, are assuming that this is something to benefit that kind of relief effort,” Guetschow said.
Paula Trentman, executive director of Associated Charities of Lenawee County, said some people have told her they put old clothes in the Planet Aid boxes thinking they were donating to hurricane victims.
But Donegan said Planet Aid makes no effort to hide the fact that the clothes are sold rather than donated. And a sign on the yellow collection boxes reads, in part, “Clothes donated to Planet Aid are resold. The proceeds are used to fund programs in Central America and Africa.”
Guetschow said he doesn’t think Planet Aid necessarily tries to mislead anyone, but he believes Lenawee County residents should give old clothes to Goodwill, the Salvation Army, the Kids’ Closet or Associated Charities instead.
“My personal opinion is that this community would be better served if people would make their donations locally,” Guetschow said.