When donations become a burden

Some items left outside bins cause headache for Red Cross.

Items left outside Red Cross donation bins are a headache for the humanitarian organization. — Gabrielle Mannino

Amercan Red Cross donation bins have been on the Island for several years, offering a simple way for people to donate clothing, but in recent years people have been leaving increasing amounts of clothing and non-clothing items outside the bins, creating an eyesore and a headache for the Red Cross and property owners.

Hilary Greene, executive director of the Red Cross for the Cape, Islands, and Southeast Massachuestts, said in her seven years on the job, excess items left outside bins have never been this bad. “It’s really getting very bad,” Greene said. “It’s frustrating.”

The bins accept clothing, shoes, and other household linens. They’re emptied and maintained by Windward Trading Group, a clothing wholesaler based in Brockton that acts as a third-party vendor. Windward collects the clothing, then writes a check to the Red Cross; a portion of that money goes to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.

Representatives from Windward could not immediately be reached for comment.

But people are leaving more and more items outside the bins. In a May 13 post on the Islanders Talk Facebook page, Ellen O’Brien shared a picture of the bins at Your Market, Jane Brown Associates, and Trader Fred’s parking lot in Edgartown. Outside the bins were bags of clothing, along with toys, an animal carrier, and other non-clothing items.

Greene wants people to know they are not helping anyone by leaving items outside bins, especially non-clothing items. She said clothing donations help the Red Cross only if they are properly placed inside bins. If left in bags outside the bins, clothing can be ruined from rain.

“If they think they are helping us out by giving us free stuff, they really are not,” Greene said. “It costs the company money to haul this stuff away, and you’re not helping people.”

While she hasn’t received complaints about bins on Martha’s Vineyard, Greene said if people continue to dump unwanted items in front of the bins, and if property owners complain, the Red Cross might remove them. Bins have been removed in off-Island locations due to excess items left outside them after property owners complained.

Fred Mascolo, the owner of Trader Fred’s, gave permission to the Red Cross to place bins in the parking lot. He said Windward has been good about collecting from the bins and removing excess items and garbage outside them, but thinks increased signage saying the bins are clothing-only might help.

“I didn’t see a problem with it because I figured it was helping people, but it appears that it’s a catchall for everything, which is not what it’s supposed to be,” Mascolo said. “It’s producing a lot of good, but unfortunately there’s a lot of bad.”

Cronig’s Market owner Steve Bernier hasn’t had issues with bins on his property. Each Wednesday, he says, Windward picks up the donations in the bins and all the items left outside them. While he doesn’t want people leaving things outside the bins, he praised Windward for taking the time to clean the area up.

Greene believes people could be leaving items to avoid paying fees at the transfer station.

“We are closing bins because the people whose property it is sitting on are tired of it,” Greene said.