The stenciled letters on the white clothing donation bins popping up in Acadiana read, “RECYCLE TO BETTER HUMANITY,” but some charity groups question whether there is a good cause behind the motto.
“In the last month, they’ve kind of come out of nowhere,” said Kelly Courville, of Goodwill Industries of Acadiana, a group known for selling donated apparel at its retail stores to support education and job training programs.
The boxes have been spotted in Lafayette, St. Martin and Iberia parishes and are similar in appearance to boxes that have drawn complaints from charity groups as far away as Gulfport, Mississippi.
Many are in the parking lots at strip malls or on the sites of closed businesses.
As for who is behind the bins, Courville said she has no idea.
She has never been able to reach anyone at the 225 area code number stenciled on the boxes and believes they might be owned by a for-profit company possibly trying to make money in the fabric salvage market.
“It’s pulling resources out of our community,” she said.
Calls by the newspaper to the number on the boxes were answered by a woman who identified herself as a recently hired secretary.
She said clothes from boxes are sorted at a warehouse in St. Rose and distributed to “homeless people and kids,” though she could offer no specifics on where the clothes are distributed.
Three messages left with the secretary for a return call from a manager or owner for more information were not returned.
Lafayette City-Parish Public Works Director Kevin Blanchard said his staff had similar difficulty in reaching someone to arrange for the removal of boxes, which are illegal in Lafayette under a local law passed in 2011 that allows for donation bins only at sites where staff is present at least five days a week.
The City-Parish Council approved the law at the urging of charity groups who pointed to other areas of the country where for-profit companies were getting into the business of selling used clothing to overseas markets, thrift stores and fabric salvage companies.
Blanchard said he began noticing the donation boxes earlier this year.
After not being able to reach anyone at the number listed on the boxes, he said, public works crews put notices on several of the bins stating they would soon be removed.
“That got us some attention. We got a call back,” Blanchard said. “It was still not easy to tell who we were talking to with any confidence.”
Someone has hauled away some of the boxes, Blanchard said, but he is still trying to get whoever brought them here to remove the roughly 50 he estimates remain in Lafayette.
“In the meantime, we are getting calls from surrounding parishes asking about them,” Blanchard said.
Kerrie Latiolais, of the Arc of St. Martin, a St. Martin Parish charity that resells donated clothes and other items, said she has noticed the bins but has no idea where they came from.
“They just kind of look like sketchy little rickety boxes,” she said.
Donation bins like those in Lafayette also have been spotted in the Baton Rouge and New Orleans areas, said Sabrina Written, spokeswoman for Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Louisiana.
She said the bins are believed to be owned by a for-profit business.
Similar bins appeared in Mississippi late last year, attracting the attention of the Habitat for Humanity of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Adele Lyons, a spokeswoman for the group, said the bins looked the same and featured the same wording as those recently seen in Lafayette, but the telephone number was different and there was a stenciled Habitat for Humanity logo.
“They used the Habitat for Humanity logo, and they used the word ‘humanity’ to play on the connection,” Lyons said. “It was kind of like in the middle of the night when they would show up and drop them off.”
More than 20 of the bins were identified in areas along the Mississippi coast, but most have since been removed, she said.
Lyons said she wasn’t able to learn much about who was behind the bins but questions any connection to a good cause.
“Somebody is definitely taking advantage of people,” Lyons said.
Follow Richard Burgess on Twitter, @rbb100.