It's spring cleaning time.
This is also when charities get a surge of donated goods, like clothing. Much of that is dropped inside large, often colorful, donation bins that can be found throughout western New York.
A closer look at these bins shows many are now adorned with large vinyl stickers designating the owner of the bin is either a for-profit operation, or a charity.
Those stickers come with a price tag.
“We spent close to four-thousand dollars,” said Mark Zirnheld, CEO of the Buffalo Society of St. Vincent DePaul, the oldest continuously operating charity in Buffalo, at 170 years and counting.
Zirnheld explains, "If you had bins out in the field, you had to now re-label them with specific language, in specific type fonts, in specific locations on your collection bin and you had a short amount of time to do it to come into compliance."
This was the result of a new state law passed in 2015. The legislation grew out of legal action Attorney General Eric Schneiderman took against an outfit called Thrift Land.
The Westchester County operation had lots of bins, at least some of them included the words "Big Brother Big Sister" on them, suggesting donations placed inside would benefit that organization.
They didn't. Thrift Land for a for-profit operation. Schneiderman's office accused them of deceptive business practices and forced Thrift Land to cough-up $700,000.
Months later, a change in state business law breezed through the legislature requiring donation bins to be clearly labeled whether the bin's owner was a charity or a for-profit entity.
And shortly after charities got letters telling them has to re-label their bins.
“I don’t know if they realized the ramifications to the provider that provide these services,” says Zirnheld.
Instead of plowing every penny into services like clothing and furnishings for the region's needy, the charity was forced to spend money on stickers, redesigning graphics packages on future bins it might purchase and un-tolled lost man-hours just complying with the new mandate.
It was an even bigger headache for Hearts for the Homeless.
“This is a monumental task for us. This is a heavy lift… for our organization,” says COO Mark Calandra."
Hearts for the Homeless has more than 450 bins around greater Buffalo. The donated items become stock the shelves at the organization's thrift store on Tonawanda Avenue in the city's Riverside neighborhood.
"No local politicians reached out to us," says Calandra. That's before or after the new bin re-labeling mandate went into effect.
"We’d like to be able to buy food for somebody or get a bed to a child and instead some of this money has to go to regulation compliance,” says Zirnheld.
A total of nine state lawmakers currently in office voted for the bin re-labeling measure.
They are Assembly members Andy Goodell, Sean Ryan, Robin Schimminger and Ray Walter. State Senators voting in favor include Patrick Gallivan, Tim Kennedy, Robert Ortt, Michael Ranzenhofer and Cathy Young.
2 On-Your-Side asked for responses or solutions to this challenge charities now face. Those who did answer, their responses are below in the order we received them:
STATEMENT FROM STATE SENATOR PATRICK GALLIVAN:
"The legislation was introduced and passed to address a legitimate problem, primarily that too many collection bins were not being maintained and were being operated by irresponsible companies. The legislation was drafted with input from Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles, an association that represents the used clothing and fiber industries. While I am not aware that a problem currently exists because of the legislation, I am willing to discuss the issue with organizations impacted by the law to see if we might be able to correct unintended consequences."
RESPONSE FROM STATE SENATOR CATHY YOUNG:
“The law in question was passed in 2015 to help address the problem of for-profit entities taking
advantage of the public’s goodwill by soliciting donations of clothing and other items under the
guise of charitable organizations. Requiring labeling of collection bins was intended to provide
transparency for the public and accountability on the part of operators. In that regard, the law
has been effective. If the requirements represent a significant burden to non-profits, we can
have that discussion. Our non-profits provide vital community services that we value and want to support.”
RESPONSE FROM STATE SENATOR MICHAEL RANZENHOFER:
This new law was enacted in 2015, almost three years ago. Since then, Senator Ranzenhofer has not received any feedback about this bill from non-profit organizations in the community. This is the first time that these concerns have been brought to his attention.
Senator Ranzenhofer encourages non-profit organizations impacted by the new law to contact his district office. He is more than willing to listen to their concerns, as well as hearing their feedback, about the impact of the new law and potential ways to address this issue.
STATEMENT FROM SENATOR TIM KENNEDY:
"At the time I voted on this bill, there were several criminal cases brought to light involving fake organizations setting up collection bins on public property, only to turn around and sell those goods for profit. It was my understanding that this legislation was born in response to that, in order to deter these sorts of scams from occurring down the road.
If this policy is in fact doing more harm than good for nonprofits, my office is always open to discussing ways in which we can partner on a solution that eases any potential burden on these agencies while also protecting the public good."