The red boxes marked "clothing and shoes" have appeared around Marshall, as well as in area cities like Cottonwood and Granite Falls. They're convenient, but the items placed inside have a different destination than those dropped off at Goodwill or local thrift stores.
The drop boxes belong to U'SAgain (pronounced "use again"), a for-profit company that collects used clothes and sells them for export and recycling. The company says its mission is to help keep clothing out of landfills. While local secondhand stores said the boxes don't appear to be affecting the number of donations received, they do have people asking questions about where their donations go.
"I don't think the amounts are different, but people are really questioning where their donations are going," said Patrick Petersen, assistant manager of the Marshall Goodwill location.
Photo by Cindy Votruba
Pictured is one of the “red boxes”that belong to U’SAgain.
U'SAgain is a national company, with collection locations in several states, including Georgia, Colorado, Illinois and Wisconsin. Michael Meidlinger of U'SAgain said the company has about 800 collection boxes in Minnesota. Clothing and shoes placed in the boxes are sold, mainly for export to places like South America, but also to textile recyclers and to a lesser extent thrift stores, he said.
The businesses that have a red drop box receive two cents per pound of donated items, Meidlinger said. The profit sharing is given out each quarter and host sites have the option to have U'SAgain automatically donate to a local charity on their behalf, Meidlinger said.
Lonny Serreyn of County Fair said he chose to donate the $138 the store received in the first quarter of this year to Prairie Home Hospice.
"I think there is some good work being done with the program, or I wouldn't have said yes," Serreyn said.
Serreyn said he agreed to be a host for a U'SAgain box because he supports recycling old clothes and some people may find it easier to use the drop box than to take clothing to a thrift store.
"Some people don't want to deal with Goodwill or the thrift store," Serreyn said.
Layne Allpress of Marshall Truck and Trailer Supply said the profit sharing money from the box at their location is contracted to go to the food shelf.
When approached by U'SAgain about having a drop box, Allpress said, "We did ask about Goodwill." The U'SAgain representative explained that unlike Goodwill, most of the clothes the company collects go out of the country, Allpress said.
Allpress said saving clothing from being thrown out sounded like a good cause, even if it didn't stay local.
Meidlinger said most donations in the Marshall area are made to the Children's Miracle Network, 4-H clubs, or local food shelves. Payments are made every 90 days, he said.
While Serreyn said he's noticed an increase in U'SAgain donations since drop boxes were placed in February, representatives of two local thrift stores said donations to the red boxes don't appear to have reduced the donations they receive.
"I really can't say that I've noticed it," said Carolyn VanKeulen, manager of the Avera Marshall Thrift Store. Donations have leveled a little recently, she said, but that's not unusual for this time of year. "During the spring rummage sale season we really get bombarded, but now it's leveled off."
Petersen said donations are "a little down, according to the numbers," but it's hard to tell if the red boxes had an effect on that. Goodwill recently started using a different recording system to tally donations, Petersen said. However, he said there doesn't seem to be much difference in the amount of donations the Marshall Goodwill receives day-to-day, and sales are strong.
One change is that people have started asking how their donations will be used, Petersen said.
"I think that's what people want, for it to stay in the area," Petersen said.
Serreyn said customers' reactions to the clothing boxes have been mostly positive. He had gotten some negative feedback, he said, but "Only once articles started coming out on T.V."
Some media reports, including one from Twin Cities-based KSTP News in June, had been critical of U'SAgain's for-profit status, and said U'SAgain officials had connections to the Teachers Group, a Danish humanitarian organization that has been investigated for financial crimes. KSTP reported that U'SAgain president Janice Bostic said she was a member of the Teachers Group, but U'SAgain did not support the organization.
Meidlinger said U'SAgain was "a stand alone company" that did not support the Teachers Group. However, he said the company "does a lot of good," contributing to charity and providing clothing for people who may not be able to afford new.
There have been some instances where U'SAgain has complied with requests to remove or relocate drop boxes, he said. But the company has also received recognition for its recycling efforts.