Choice clothing kept under wraps from homeless [VoA] FWD

Tom Boland (
Wed, 22 Jul 1998 23:15:19 -0700 (PDT)
FWD  The Columbus [Ohio] Dispatch  July 19, 1998


     By Alice Thomas, Dispatch Staff Reporter

Volunteers of America estimates it gives away more than $250,000 in
clothing annually.

But homeless people can't choose any item they want from the agency's 12
thrift stores. Instead, they get vouchers that allow them to pick items
with certain color tags.

A former caseworker in the VOA's family shelter considers the practice

"If you were given a voucher, you got the garbage clothes,'' said the
ex-caseworker, who didn't want her name published. "To me, that's treating
a homeless child as less of a person.

"Those clothes are donated in good faith from the people of Columbus.
They're just getting rich.''

The agency defends the practice as a way to guard against resale schemes
and be fair to low-income shoppers at its stores.

Limiting the clothes homeless people can get free reduces the number of
more expensive items that get snapped up and resold for a profit, said Jeff
Brasie, VOA president.

"You will have people who will violate the system,'' he said. "But I'd be
real unhappy if we didn't give any clothing away.''

Resale also is a problem before the clothes get to the stores, Brasie and
others said.

"There are people who will, when they sort, set things aside,'' he said,
adding that the agency recently broke up an internal theft ring.

Brasie said the color-coded tags also correspond with the lifespan of
clothing, and helps ensure fresh stock for regular shoppers.

Former VOA President Graham LeStourgeon said the rotation is vital to
running a successful business.

"We had to make enough money to keep the stores going and the trucks
running,'' he said. "And a cloth coat will keep you as warm as a leather

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