Suspicious clothing donation bins plaguing Bayside

Suspicious clothing donation boxes popping up around northeast Queens have caused dozens of residents to file complaints.
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Home and business owners in Bayside and surrounding neighborhoods have recently lodged dozens of complaints with elected officials and civic groups after seeing several clothing donation boxes that appear to be scams pop up throughout the area.

The large pink boxes with the words “clothes shoes drop” written in all capital letters on one side have been a source of concern for many residents of Bayside, Little Neck and Oakland Gardens since they started appearing throughout the area about six months ago, when Community Board 11 District Manager Susan Seinfeld said the board first began receiving complaints about them.

The boxes are printed with “Our Neighborhood Recycling” on the side and a phone number with an 855 area code, but residents say they fear the drop boxes are not there to benefit legitimate charities.

“We don’t always know who does it, but there’s only one company who actually clearly marks the boxes with their organizati­on,” said Seinfeld, who went on to identify that organization as USAgain. The group is a national textile recycling company that collects used clothing and brings it back to life in order to sell apparel at reduced costs for people who cannot afford new clothes.

A woman who answered a call placed to the phone number on the box said Our Neighborhood Recycling ships the clothes overseas but hung up without giving more details. Community leaders said they fear whomever is placing the boxes around the neighborhood is taking the clothes donations and selling them for personal profit.

Seinfeld said the city’s administrative code has clear regulations on where drop boxes can be placed, and no boxes are to be put anywhere on public property. Donation boxes are only allowed to be placed on private property, she said, with the permission of the owner.

Many homeowners and restaurant owners have called to complain about boxes being placed on their property overnight without their consent.

Seinfeld also said the city code requires that the city Sanitation Department, which deals with any illegal donation boxes, gives 30 days notice before it is legally allowed to haul them away. In the meantime, she said Sanitation inspectors who are called to the sites each time a complaint is filed have begun placing stickers on the boxes warning people not to donate any items of clothing.

“These people put this box somewhere knowing they can leave it there for 30 days before anyone can do anything about it,” Seinfeld said. “They’re attracting people to come and throw all kinds of garbage around it and I think people are under the impression they’re giving to a charity when they’re really not.”

Michael Feiner, president of the Bayside Hills Civic Association, said his group has also received complaints from residents and said he forwards them to CB 11, elected officials and the 111th Precinct to spread the word about the problem. Feiner also said the complaints have become much more frequent in recent months.

Seinfeld said anyone concerned about a box that may be illegal should file a complaint either with CB 11 or Sanitation so the agencies can continue to address the issue.

“It’s definitely a problem,” she said. “It’s an eyesore.”

Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at kdurham@cnglocal.com.

Updated 1:02 am, June 30, 2014
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Reader feedback

Wade from Bayside says:
It’s likely the pink boxes are a scam, as reports on questionable donation bins are quite common. But I must add that after researching USAgain for five years, I’m of the opinion that despite stalwart appearances, there is nothing “clear” about this very controversial company.

For example, read where it says USAgain sells apparel “at reduced costs for people who cannot afford new clothes.” In plain language, USAgain profits millions of dollars a year by selling the stuff they collect to poor people in Africa and elsewhere.

In addition, the unequivocal wording on USAgain’s current website and green and white bins may have been forced upon it in 2010 by Washington state’s Attorney General, who had the previous year told Seattle’s KIRO 7 Eyewitness News that the company was “not properly licensed to collect used clothes” in that state.

According to documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, in late 2009 it had come to the attention of Washington’s Secretary of State that USAgain was engaging in “charitable solicitations,” as defined in that state’s Charitable Solicitations Act. As a result, USAgain was given two choices: 1) register as a “commercial fundraiser”, or 2) change the language on its bins and website so the public wouldn’t likely perceive that USAgain was engaging in charitable solicitations.

USAgain via its lawyers initially resisted such requirements, but later gave in, opting to change the wording on its bins and website — hence the new bin design with the prominent disclaimer.

USAgain has attracted considerable bad press for even more disturbing reasons. Reports going back a decade suggest that the for-profit company, to quote one TV news investigation, “... routinely pretended to be a charity so business owners wouldn't ask for rent on the bin space.”

Worse, Danish prosecutors have tied USAgain to an alleged cult called the Tvind Teachers Group. Five leaders of this group are Interpol fugitives wanted in their native Denmark in connection with a multimillion-dollar tax-fraud and embezzlement scheme.

Google search the following two reports:

Millions In Clothing Donations Diverted From Charity – kirotv

Local Mayor Wants Red Bins Out - USAgain in Seattle – YouTube

[More info is in the 2nd report's description box; click ‘Show more’ while on that page.]

Thanks for letting me express my opinions. Please research before you donate.
June 26, 2014, 5:42 am
Joe Moretti from Jamaica says:
This has become an issue in Jamaica as well as many other places across the borough, including Park Slope in Brooklyn.

All of these bins are scams of one kind or another except for Goodwill bins. The majority take the clothes and resell them for a profit, nothing goes to charity or to help the needy.

Here in Jamaica we are lucky enough to have a group of officers at the 103rd precinct who will remove the bins after two weeks of giving notice to the owners of the bins. These officers work with DOS on this major quality of life issue.

Districts might want to see if they can get their own precinct involved to speed up the process.

In the meantime, NYC needs to immediately tackle the issue head on. First off it is not real easy to place these bins, it takes equipment, manpower and time.

On another note some apartment buildings (Zara Realty is one) and some businesses are getting into contracts with these companies, where the company will pay property owners to place them on their property.

One has to wonder just who is backing these companies, especially the ones overseas. Terrorist, organized crime.

Bottom line, NYC needs to have a zero tolerance on this issue.

June 26, 2014, 7:23 am
zero til illegals from Queens says:
NYC will have a zero tolerance until they find out this is being run by people who are here illegally. Then they will be welcomed with open arms as industrious local businessmen.
June 26, 2014, 9:46 am
Joe Boxes from NYC says:
A little secret, the items collected from these bins, sold just like received in the trash bags yield $.30-$.45 a pound to a wholesaler. This is just another example of a scam where they buy bins for about $800 each, make a bs name to sound benevolent, drop the box in the middle of the night without permission and then collect the clothes. Each box in the NYC area should collect about 200-400 pounds a week. So each box makes the scammers about $150 a week! Even just 20 bins is $3000 a week cash.

While there are plenty of good collectors both charity and for profit you have to play by the rules. If a simple permit process was enacted requiring a fee if say $100 and a vetting process like many other municipalities this could be avoided.

There is no reason for this wild west mentality. Fly by night operators like these pink boxes ruin it for not only charities but legitimate for profit recyclers as well.
June 27, 2014, 7:45 am
Taxpayer from NYC says:
Mayor, why did you remove the non profit donation bins in our city? I thought your goal was to ramp up recycling in NYC? You now have stunted the effort and now citizens will dispose of their unwanted clothing in the trash. No sense!
June 4, 2015, 7:58 am

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