Don’t blame charities for drop box deaths
Recently, a woman got trapped in a donation box in Toronto and died. A week earlier, a man died in a West Vancouver donation box. The media learned that since 2015, eight people have died trying to get inside these clothing bins.
Eight people! Wow! Shouldn’t that rate as a national security crisis?
Critics called the bins “death traps.” A witness to the Toronto woman’s death said, “She was just utterly pinned in there… It was like an animal trap designed not to release her.”
In a collection of panicky responses, West Vancouver ordered all donation bins in the city locked. Vancouver considered banning them completely. Diabetes Canada decided to retrofit all of its 4,000 clothing donation bins across the country. Burnaby called for the removal of all bins.
And Rangeview Fabricating of Toronto stopped making any containers until it can develop a safer design.
All of which seems to imply that hundreds of charities — national, regional, or local — are at fault for risking the public’s health.
No one seems to be asking why the public is getting into the bins anyway.
Ray Taheri, an engineering professor at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus, argued that homeless people or those in need will try to pull themselves inside the bins to reach the contents inside or to shelter themselves for warmth.
Taheri described the victims as “desperate people.”
Maybe some of them are. But some of them definitely are not desperate. Or homeless. Or even in need.
Global News featured video of a welldressed young man extricating himself from the inside of a metal clothing bin. His escape required strength and agility far beyond the capabilities of any homeless men I know.
Anyone really desperate doesn’t need to steal. Any thrift shop will give items away to anyone who can’t afford a dollar or two.
The Thrift Shop I know best, associated with the United Church in Lake Country, installed surveillance cameras because of the volume of thefts.
One of the thieves does, indeed, look somewhat destitute. But, he loads up the trailer for his bicycle. And comes back 20 minutes later with an accomplice. She’s perhaps in her thirties. And she’s walking, both ways.
They were not succumbing to a casual impulse.
They spent 47 minutes sorting through donations to select exactly what they wanted.
Another night, the same couple had to came back a second time, because they couldn’t carry everything from their first visit.
Another video shows a young couple driving up in a relatively late-model black fourdoor Honda Civic.
The male driver grabs a large wicker basket, a donation, which he fills to overflowing with stolen clothes. His female companion sits in the car with her window down, smoking cigarettes and spitting butts onto the ground, while she instructs him which items to choose.
They fill the car’s back seat so full, they have to move front seats forward to make room.
Ours is not the only Thrift Shop affected. Thieves also hit the donation bins at the shop that supports the Lake Country food bank. Even though it’s right across the street from the RCMP offices.
Their operation closed over the Christmas period. When they re-opened after New Year’s, they found not one donation in their drop box. Not one!
Yes, some people who raid clothing bins do use the clothing for themselves. Neighbours to the United Church Thrift Shop have watched people strip naked, put on fresh clothing from the donation box, and throw their dirty laundry through the slot.
But the recent rash of thefts involves far more clothing and household goods than thieves could use for themselves.
Purely by coincidence, someone advertised (on VarageSale.com) a sale of second-hand clothing in the parking lot of a local pub. But the pub manager assured me they knew nothing about it.
Unfortunately, there’s no way of tracking donated clothing that hasn’t been processed by volunteers inside the store yet.
Disclosure: I am not impartial about this story. The volunteers in the United Church Thrift Shop are friends. Without the revenues from the Thrift Shop, our church would have closed 30 years ago.
The shop also donates thousands of dollars every year to other community organizations.
I realize this protest is futile. I’m expecting thieves to have ethics, and self-centred jerks to have compassion for the less fortunate. But unless I protest, I’m condoning their actions.
So let’s quit pretending that the people who raid donation boxes are somehow innocent victims of the charities’ carelessness. They’re thieves. Period.
Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author and freelance journalist. He can be reached at re[email protected]