Thursday, January 6, 2011

Thinking Outside The Box

Whoever's supposed to be picking up donations from those green Gaia boxes around Uptown isn't doing a very good job of it. This one, located near the Foster/Broadway Marathon, seems to have more outside of it than inside; and the one outside of Uplift School was a disaster last summer.

For an organization that's supposed to be concerned with saving the earth, Gaia is doing a pretty good job of trashing our little corner of it.


  1. Thank you for addressing this! I have been watching the pile grow every morning on my way to the Dunkin Donuts right there. Typically, the homeless are rifling through the bags and items left scattered. It's fine these items go to people in need, but they aren't going to the organization that is trying to collect it. Doing some research, I came across this article from 2005 which explains the GAIA organization's sketchy past which includes embezzlement:

    Also found this from 2009 which recommends to just donate usable goods directly to resale shops and not this third party. Not sure what the 'right' thing to do is, but worth a read if you are considering donation:

  2. Have you seen the Salvation Army drop box next to the Jewel at Montrose and Sheridan?

    Me thinks it has has Gaia beat on eye-soreness.

  3. I question any store owner about Gaia. The last I heard it was a scam:

    There was also a piece years ago in the Reader.

    Does anyone want to enlighten me on my dark and cynical view of this organization?

  4. I was a general manager of a chain of thrift stores before I retired. We use to buy donations from GAIA for our stores to sell. GAIA, if you research it, has a past that includes alot more then embezzlement. Thats partly why their operation was mostly thrown out of Europe and they came here to Chicago. They donate, like many other thrift stores, less then 5% of profits minus their costs. They made millions of dollars this way by the use of a front name that they are allowed by law to operate. GAIA donation boxes are always full and messy in all neighborhoods. Think twice and research any so called nonprofit organization. The way their donation boxes look give you a clue just how they are being run.
    Heres a number to their office to make complaints about donation boxes. 1(773)651-7870

  5. What I have read about them in the past is similar to what other posters have said here. I will tell you that there was one close to my home at a business years ago. Community members pushed the business to get rid of the box for the same reason, overflowing and homeless people loitering. It took a while as the business asked several times for the box to get picked up before that was finally accomplished. If you live, work or pass by one of these boxes regularly go in and tell the business that allows it to happen to get rid of it. That would be a great place to start. Gaia will not be responsive to complaints from you, at least that was my experience in my neighborhood. Only when the business stated they were going to get rid of it themselves if it was not picked up, did it finally get moved. The one in the picture, could be the one that was taken from my neighborhood for all we know. I am sure they just move it to another location in the general area.

  6. So who's property is this box technically on? Is it the Marathon Foster/Broadway? We should all call them and ask them to remove these boxes (773) 728-8926. Also, does the landowner get anything from GAIA for allowing these boxes on their property? I am not sure I understand the motivation why a business owner would elect to place these boxes on their land. Given GAIA's past history, it doesn't appear that it is just "the right thing to do" to help a charity.

  7. What about other organizations with these boxes? There are red "Clothes & Shoes" boxes scattered around the North Side, including the Shell station at Ashland & Lawrence. I'd hate to see these disappear entirely; they are a great convenience for people who have bags of stuff to donate and don't want to go through the hassle of actually going to a store, etc. Sometimes thrift store personnel are less than "welcoming" in their attitude towards people coming in with donations. Really, folks, a simple "Thanks/God Bless You" goes a long way!

  8. I dropped off about 5 bags of donations at the Salvation Army boxes next to Jewel around 7pm on New Year's Eve. When my stuff went in, they were full, maybe with some room for a few more bags, but not much. I came back the next day and there were donations piled up all around the box, and four people picking through them. I don't fault Salvation Army for overflow that happens when people make drop offs after their business hours, but I do think they'd benefit from having more boxes available on site if its possible.
    Also, what's the appropriate response when you see people taking things that were intended to be donated? The things I put in the box were intended to be given to Salvation Army so that they could be reused or resold. NOT so that someone with a long arm could reach in the box and help themselves. Is this considered stealing and should the police be called? I've asked people the same question here and there and gotten mixed reactions.

  9. I agree that the businesses maintaining these boxes should empty them more often. Here's an idea. What if people, realizing that the box is full, find a different box location or take their items home until the box is emptied? That might help them from becoming an eyesore.

  10. Other areas must be getting tired of these boxes as well I think.

    Last year I saw about 7 or 8 of them in the scrap yard at Armitage Ave.and the river.

    The fact is too much clothes gets donated for "domestic" use. The majority is rifled thru for the good stuff, then baled-up and sent to 3rd world nations. There it is SOLD off by the ton cheaper then locally made textiles snuffing out that income source once and for all for the little guy.

    If you have ever seen a newspaper photo from Haiti, Zambia or Equador and seen everybody wearing Bulls T-shirts and the like.....that is why.

  11. Personally I do not leave anything at a box that is not well tended. That means zero GAIA, zero Salvation Army (I don't like that they preach at people while helping them with *my* donation). Where I live there are a couple of very well-maintained clothes boxes run the Lutherans. They are on Montrose between Cicero and Milwaukee (not near Uptown).

    I have also taken donations directly to for-profit thrift stores. I figure they make more money by cutting out GAIA, and I accomplished my goal, which was to recycle gently used clothes.

  12. Assuming that there is no existing ordinance regarding such collection boxes, I propose this a simple remedy:

    1) Draft a "Responsible Donation Collection Bins" ordinance. I would suggest the following be included: limits on where such bins can be located, limits as to how many can be located on a site, requireme that individuals & businesses with such bins on their properties be held responsible for the maintenance and the prevention of littering & dumping, and a minimum fine (let's say $250/day) be assessed for lack of maintenance.

    2) Introduce the ordinance to the city council independently via the City Clerk (details on how to do this are here

    3) Once introduced, canvass the candidates running for alderman in the 46th & 48th wards to support the ordinance. Since it will have been introduced there will be an identifiable "neighborhood quality of life" proposal to which they can commit.

    4) Organize a petition drive and publicity campaign in support of the ordinance.

    5) Organize a letter writing campaign (letters to the editor, letters to aldermen, letters to code enforcement).

  13. @JefferyLittleton,

    I dont doubt what you're saying. But also, when any pro team (in any major sport) gets close to a championship, t-shirts and hats and everything else are printed up in advance. The losing team often donates those clothing articles outside the country. And that is why you often see people wearing U.S. sports team items during international reports.

  14. Ray - You're right about the "losing team souvenirs" that are often donated by the sports honchos to foreign relief efforts. But Eric Zorn of the Trib reported a couple years ago about an "underground" market in the US for this kind of stuff.

    Please send out an alert if you ever see a "Cubs NL Champs 2003/07/08" shirt at your friendly neigborhood thrift store...:-)

  15. To Jeffrey Littleton:

    " is SOLD off by the ton cheaper then locally made textiles snuffing out that income source once and for all for the little guy."

    I hadn't thought about that. That is a tragic thought.

    Essentially, that happens with food handouts too. It is strange how our best impulses to help sometimes hurt.

    Charities should address this issue, it has been going on for too long. They have better technical understanding of what is needed in places like Haiti to help them recover.

    My experience locally is the property owners give permission for free placement of these boxes as a way of helping the "charity." Like many people, they don't know of the questionable practices of Gaia.

    For the property owner this seems like such a free lunch. They are supporting a charity and there is no cost to them.

    A few people coming in a store and noting that they will shop elsewhere while the bin is there, and specifically discussing Gaia's past, will help the property owner make an informed decision.

    Overall, it sounds like a story to be followed up.

  16. @ Ray...I can't say for sure but I would be surprised if vendors are not under contract that t-shirts hats and etc. are destroyed. Think about it. Has anyone seen such an article by the losing team...I haven't. Its probably a NFL, NBA, MLB guideline...and NHL of course (GO HAWKS).

    It is so difficult to make a point sometimes I know. Let me use another non-sports example this time but nonetheless absolutely true....a dude in Nigeria at a street rally wearing a t-shirt from a plumbing company in North Carolina. A kid in Peru wearing a dated Tommy Hifinger shirt...etc...examples literally "by the ton, in bales"

    This is a muti-million dollar racket, but still a small portion of the textile industry as a whole. Its been written and reported on many times and has its own infrastructure.

    Also if you consider the locations of these green boxes I would take a guess that GAIA leases that space the same as if they parked an old Chevy there. If the gas station(s) were practicing altruism you better believe they would be saying something about this first.

    At the same time if people want to donate their clothing that is a great and noble thing, I can't knock it, they are going out of there way to do so.

    We have local groups here in Uptown that need certain types of clothing at different times of the year. Cornerstone, Mercy Housing, Sarah's Circle and others. Maybe UU can do a future post compiling a list of locations and specific types/gender of items needed in the future sometime.

    The good people who wish to donate deserve it!

    I will see what I can figure out and pass it on to UU. Very busy in the next month however, will make a note of it.

    I am on WISEGUYS side of opinion on this one. GAIA is not a worthy charity if a charity at all.

    Peace and good night.

    Jeffrey Littleton