Editor's note: This is the first in a two-part series. See the second part in the May 12 issue of the Ahwatukee Foothills News.
Phoenicians of good will might be donating their clothing to for-profit corporations under a host of different guises.
Many clothing donation bins around town are operated by for-profit corporations that export some of the goods out of the community.
"There are for-profits that actually borrow the name of non-profits and give them a small percentage," said Jim Kaiser, donation center director of Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Central Arizona, a non-profit organization. "Sadly, in certain situations, something like 3 percent goes to the charities."
The for-profits own and operate bins all around, springing up next to non-profit bins in high-traffic areas.
"There's only so much clothing out there to give, so if we're on a nice location, they want us off," Kaiser said.
One of the for-profit companies, American Textile Recycling Service of Arizona (ATRS-AZ), has a semi-exclusive partnership with The Weldon House, a supportive housing program under the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.
In 2007, Sally Lara, then CEO of the Weldon House, and Bob Goodwill of ATRS-AZ "met and worked out a mutually agreeable neighborhood recycling program."
"If it wasn't for those additional funds, we would not be able to do many things," said Thelma Ross, current CEO of the Weldon House.
Ross said that "we don't get anything from the bins; we just get a percentage of the money that ATRS makes off the clothing."
When asked what percentage the Weldon House receives from the clothing donated to the bins, Ross was hesitant to disclose.
"I don't know the actual percentage and I'm not OK with giving the actual number, because I need to respect them as well," Ross said. "What I can say is that we get "X" amount of dollars in a mutually agreeable program."
ATRS has a different take on the arrangement with the Weldon House.
"They give us a list of things they need at the Weldon House, those go first," said Mike Holt, community relations coordinator of ATRS-AZ. "We're the only ones in town that do the recycling program that goes directly to the charity listed."
When asked about the climate around all of the donation bins, Holt said, "It's very competitive, always fighting for locations."
ATRS recently courted Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Phoenix, offering to operate collection boxes with a portion of the return benefitting My Sister's Place, a Catholic Charities domestic violence shelter.
"We have only been in business with ATRS for a couple months," said Tom Egan, director of program operations at Catholic Charities of Arizona. "So far we are pleased with the relationship."
Egan said his organization is testing out options for new sources of revenue in this economic climate.
"We always have an out clause with the company that we can exercise if we become suspicious of anything."
An ATRS bin collecting donations for My Sister's Place is located in the parking lot of Corpus Christi Catholic Church, 3550 E. Knox Road.
Tony Tiedemann is president of Tiedemann Globe, an exporting company with bins in town. "We're after the soccer mom," he said. "We don't put bins in the poorer neighborhoods or the more affluent ones. The rich people have their own charities they give to."
Tiedemann said he owns "about 100 to 120 clothing collection bins," and the donations go to members of the military and their families.
"None of the clothing we collect goes to thrift stores," said Tiedemann, who also is the owner of Tiedemann Family Thrift. "My charity is Loved Ones Lost. I choose to give to those who serve in the armed forces and their families because I never have and never will serve."
Tiedemann is founder and chairman of the board of Loved Ones Lost; he says that all of the money that goes to benefit the organization comes out of his pocket.
"We are doing a good thing, and I want you to know that we won't be bullied by anybody, not the non-profits or reporters, or anybody," he said.
A charity in Phoenix to operate clothing donation bins that are seen in abundance is Swift Charities for Children. Swift chooses to "take the high road" in the competition between for-profit and non-profit companies for donations collected in the bins, said Jim Stone, executive director of Swift Charities For Children.
"Before, we (non-profits) just stayed out of each others' way and had our own niches, but then these people came in the middle of the night and placed collection boxes at locations without their permission," Stone said. "They muddy the water and it's difficult to go toe to toe with these people from out of town because they don't play by the rules."
Swift has signed letters of permission from each of the locations of their bins, and the only source of donations for Swift is the bins.
Partnership with schools is Swift's new way of ensuring that they still collect enough donations to uphold the commitments they have made to different organizations.
"Schools might be it," Stone said. "they have control over their territory and say who stays and if they don't want someone there, they remove them promptly."
Corey Ramirez is a graduate of the University of Arizona School of Journalism. A freelance journalist; poverty, social justice issues and the culture of the Southwest are some of Ramirez's most written-about topics. He can be reached at (602) 499-1497 or CTPRamirez@gmail.com.