ROCK HILL For the second time within a month, a charity collecting clothes and shoes for the needy told police their large, yellow donation boxes had been repainted and relabeled to solicit donations for another nonprofit currently facing suspension and a possible $2,000 fine.
On Monday, Gena Carruthers, territory manager for Planet Aid, told police she had been tracking down the theft of six donation bins where people drop in clothes and other supplies for the less-fortunate, according to a Rock Hill police report. Two of those boxes were stationed in Rock Hill: one at Sawyers Cleaners and the other at Tuesday Morning, both on Cherry Road.
The items Planet Aid collects support development project overseas, help the environment and provide items to the needy and homeless. Its supported by site hosts, typically business owners who allow the organization to plant their donation boxes on their property at malls, shopping centers, convenience stores and churches. Donated clothes are sent to warehouses, where they are sold to thrift stores or directly to overseas customers.
Within the past several months, the boxes have been taken, repainted green and sketched with the words Helping Hands of Carolina before they were returned to their previous locations, the report states. Planet Aids boxes are yellow and have a distinct shape, Carruthers said: Each bin represents a significant investment for us and it leaves us with one less donation bin.
Of the six boxes Carruthers claims are missing, she has found one in Lancaster County, and the rest in York County.
In June 2012, Planet Aid reported that donation boxes had been stolen from a Mexican restaurant, car detail shop and a car dealership in Gastonia, N.C., according to Gastonia Police Department records. Police did not have any suspects or leads to follow.
About three months ago, Carruthers said she found one of the stolen boxes in Fort Mill near Carowinds while driving past the Comfort Inn & Suites. The box had been repainted green and the logo for Helping Hands covered information about Planet Aid. A month later, Carruthers found a second bin, also repainted green and affixed with a Helping Hands sticker, in Lancaster.
Deputies called a Helping Hands phone number and spoke with Marie Simons, the nonprofits founder, the report states. The deputy dropped the call because he could not understand her. He tried calling back several times but never got an answer. A bystander told deputies that the box had been in front of the business for nearly a year.
Last month, Carruthers discovered two other repainted Planet Aid boxes in front of Catos in York, according to a York Police report. While in Rock Hill on Monday, she found a repainted box in front of Sawyers Cleaners. She said the owner told her that someone had been collecting the items from the box.
She soon found another box outside of Tuesday Morning, which had been outside the store for at least two years, said Valerie Shillinglaw, store manager.
Shillinglaw said people donate all kinds of stuff to the box, dropping off items as big as dishware, a baby carriage and a rocking horse, she said: Theyve been racking up.
Carruthers said Planet Aid has never worked in partnership with Helping Hands.
Helping Hands of Carolina, headquartered in Lancaster, is a registered nonprofit with the Secretary of State that collects and sends donated items to Haiti, and cares for people suffering from breast cancer and HIV, Simons said.
The painted boxes, she said, were never stolen, but had been at their posted locations at least since 2007, originally belonging to another nonprofit that state officials confirm has since dissolved. That group allowed Helping Hands to use their unused boxes, said Simons, adding that the paint must have chipped to expose the yellow coloring underneath. The boxes, she said, never belonged to Planet Aid, where she worked for a year in Greenville.
Police are probing the case and will have to try and prove who might have repainted the boxes, said Rock Hill Police Executive Officer Mark Bollinger. The culprits responsible might have civil culpability because the theft would be considered a misdemeanor. Carruthers initially overstated the value of the boxes, telling police they are worth $2,000. Authorities have learned they are actually worth $1,200, or $600 each.
Police do not believe the boxes were stolen in Rock Hill, but have allowed Planet Aid to reclaim them because Carruthers was able to provide serial numbers matching both bins, he said.
Helping Hands faces suspension from the Secretary of State after officials learned the organization learned it had been soliciting for contributions though it failed to register properly with the state, according to a letter from the Secretary of State.
The group last registered with the state in 2008, but their exempt status expired in 2009, said Shannon Wiley, deputy general counsel for the Secretary of State. All registrations, including registrations for exempt nonprofits, must be renewed each year if the organization is soliciting any kind of contributions.
State officials received a complaint that the organization was soliciting while not registered, Wiley said. Officials sent the notice of violation on Oct. 18. Helping Hands received on Oct. 21. As of Oct. 21, the group has 15 days to come into compliance or risk paying the state $2,000. If they do not, the group will be suspended and the state will file an administrative injunction against them, requesting the courts to shut the organization down until the fines are paid.
When you do fundraising, you need to renew it, Simons said. I forgot to renew it. I dont do fundraising...we dont have time to do fundraising.
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