Some non-profits and charity watchdogs have a beef with green bins around town

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Shoes and clothes go into the donation bins around the Central Valley. What comes out may surprise you. (KFSN)

Shoes and clothes go into the donation bins around the Central Valley. What comes out may surprise you.

Many of the metal boxes, the green ones, come from the Gaia Movement. We followed the trail to a phone number listed on the bins-- where we got no answer. Then to an address in Atascadero-- where they'd never heard of the Gaia Movement. But the company's website led to a home in Turlock, where we tracked down Joe Pereira, who identified himself as an operations manager for Gaia.

"What we do, is we collect the clothes and then we use it for different programs, for environmental programs. The clothes usually get collected in different cities and then it goes to the warehouse."

In the Central Valley, the warehouse is in Downtown Fresno. A nondescript brick building with several more of those green bins visible through open windows.

Those windows also reveal several big pallets of donated clothes. Where it goes next is part of the problem, according to critics.

Pereir said, "Garson & Shaw, they broker to the different companies like I said and then that's where it would go."

"So basically, you guys collect it," asked our reporter.

Pereir answered, "Yes."

"And then Garson & Shaw distributes it," Pereir was asked.

Pereir answered, "Uh, they'll find some companies, they're a broker, and we'll give it to those companies."

Garson & Shaw is a for-profit, secondhand clothing broker based in Atlanta. Pereira said most of the clothes you donate are sold to be shredded and recycled.

And while the boxes may be convenient, we didn't see any donation receipts or forms you could submit to the IRS. So writing off your donations may not be as convenient.

The goodwill's CEO is not a big fan of donation bins.

"Our biggest problem the Goodwill Industries sees with them is they take donations from the local public and they go right out of those boxes and right out of the Valley," said David Miller, Goodwill Industries.

Gaia's boxes say the donations "go to support our community programs and environmental projects," but not much of it goes to community programs in Central California.

The non-profit watchdog Charity Watch said Gaia actually spends only about two percent of its expenses on charitable programs.

Gaia's CEO said, "The Gaia Movement's financial statement is done by a certified auditor every year" and 79-percent of their revenue is spent on charitable, community programs.

Gaia's CEO would not submit to an interview, but in an emailed response to questions, Eva Nielsen told us Goodwill wants the entire used clothing market to themselves.

As for community programs, she said, "our main program is protecting the environment and keeping the used clothes out of the landfills." She cited an EPA study saying 85-percent of used clothes go to landfills. So keeping it out is their community program. Charity Watch calls it fundraising since Gaia turns donated clothes into money.

It may resemble a landfill outside Gaia's Fresno warehouse, and near some of the donation bins, but the Goodwill said these clothes would most likely end up with them or another local charity if not for these bins.

"Most folks that donate clothing to the donation bins don't know the difference. They also think when they donate their clothing to the local area, they think it's staying local to benefit the locals in their area and that's not the case with the boxes," said Miller.

The Gaia Movement is based in Chicago and has the warehouse in Fresno and the single-family home in Turlock. But its bins aren't the only ones you'll see here.

This one in Northwest Fresno is a magnet for loose clothes and shoes, and security guards tell me it popped up without permission and gets pried open regularly.

Good Earth Works isn't a registered charity, and the phone number on the box led to a voicemail box and no return call.

In Gaia's case, a few property managers said they allowed the bins, thinking they were helping a local charity.

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