Proposed SB ordinance targets charity drop boxes

In a day and age when people are being encouraged to ‘shop local’ comes a proposed South Bend city ordinance to help them ‘drop local.’

On April 14th, the South Bend Common Council will hold a public hearing on a measure that seeks to regulate the drop boxes commonly used to collect charitable donations.

“What we’re saying with the ordinance is that you need to have a local presence, so it doesn’t mean that you can’t have your box here, but you need to be a part of our community” said Goodwill President and CEO Debie Coble.

A good portion of what Goodwill does depends on drop box donations coming in at a good pace.

“They’re very important, they’re our life blood. If we don’t have donations then we don’t have items to sell in our stores and our retail stores fund a majority of our programming and helping individuals get back to work,” said Coble.

While drop boxes have historically been used by local charities to fund local operations, that’s no longer exclusively the case.

In fact, one box at Eddy and Madison in South Bend promises to spread the proceeds around the planet by funding development programs in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

“You find people from out of town who put up boxes, and again you got to look out to see are they really legitimate organizations,” said the sponsor of the ordinance, South Bend Sixth District Councilman Oliver Davis.

Coble added, “The boxes we’re talking about, a truck comes in every so often, empties out the box and it leaves.”

An overflowing Planet Aid box off of Western Avenue seems to indicate that the sponsoring charity is too far away to know when the unit needs to be emptied.

Nearby, an IICD Michigan box was found resting on its side: perhaps an indication that the sponsoring charity is too far away to know when the unit needs to be up-righted.

The proposed ordinance would require each box to be emptied at least once every seven days, and have a designated “attendant” who must reside in St. Joseph County or in an immediately adjacent county. The attendant would have to respond within 12 hours after being informed of a problem.

In contrast, the IICD Michigan box lists a contact number in Taylor, Michigan, some 170 miles away.

“They may have a very good cause, but our bigger concern is just making sure that we take care of our community and any time a donated item goes out of our community, we’re not able to do that,” said Coble.

The ordinance also establishes a mechanism to fund the enforcement of the new donation box rules. Each box would have to be licensed at a cost of $25.00 per box.

While local charities currently do not have to pay such a fee, it’s something they’re willing to do to bring about greater regulation.

The proposed ordinance is set for a public hearing before the South Bend Common Council on April 14th.

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