Area non-profits push to keep charity local

Local charity bin outside the Society of St. Vincent DePaul in Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)- If you happen to donate to one of the big, red “Hearts for the Homeless” bins around Buffalo, you know what you’re giving will help someone in Western New York.

But that’s not always the case, and area non-profits like Hearts for the Homeless are seeing more competition from for-profit and out-of-state groups.

“This is all stuff that was recently collected, donations from the community,” said COO of Hearts for the Homeless, Nicholas Calandra, as he gave me a tour of the sorting area below the Hearts Thrift Shop.

In 2011, Hearts for the Homeless started using the donation bins to make collecting easier; it’s now their main source of used clothing and household items.

“Since then we’ve seen more groups come to this area to try and collect,” Calandra said.

Some of those groups are national organizations, others send proceeds far away.

So how do you know which bins are legit?

Executive Director for the Society of St. Vincent DePaul, Mark Zirnheld, said the local bins tend to be well taken of, emptied regularly, and always have a local phone number or email on them.

“Some of these groups that are coming in to Western New York don’t necessarily keep those donations here. And some of the donations don’t even really make it to people in need,” he said.

The State’s Attorney General nabbed one of those companies this fall, who branded itself as a charity, but was really collecting items to re-sell.

“Those donations, even a small amount that goes to one of these profit businesses, takes away from the efforts of well-meaning individuals here that are trying to help other Western New Yorkers out,” Zirnheld said.

The state has developed stricter guidelines to help avoid scams like that, which should be rolled out this year.

For local groups, it’s a matter of staying in the game.

“The donations are the lifeblood of our organization, so if our donation stream drops it’s a way that we have to then make up for it somewhere else,” Calandra told News 4.

Another thing to keep in mind when donating: not ALL donations can be given to someone in need. Zirnheld said broken items, especially electronics, just create more work for organizations, as most don’t have the staff repair them. Both he and Calandra stressed, if it’s not something you’d want yourself, chances are it’s not good enough for someone in need.

Check the Hearts for the Homeless and the Society of St. Vincent DePaul’s websites for a list of what items they accept in their bins and in their stores.

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