Nova Scotia

Charities stop collecting clothing bin donations, leaving hundreds temporarily out of work

While the loss of the bins may seem small, it's actually a significant source of income for many organizations, and was a source of employment for hundreds of people across Canada.

'It's going to have significant financial impact,' says Big Brothers Big Sisters in Halifax

There are signs on donation bins for Diabetes Canada asking people not to leave items there at this time. The 500 employees who typically pick up the donations have been laid off due to the COVID-19 outbreak. (Patrick Callaghan/CBC)

Charities that collect clothing donations are closing up their community bins and asking people to hold on to their items until the risk of COVID-19 is over.

While the loss of the bins may seem small, it's actually a significant source of income for many organizations. It was also a source of employment for hundreds of people across Canada.

In the Halifax area, clothing donations account for about 30 per cent of the operating budget for Big Brothers Big Sisters.

"It's going to have significant financial impact on the charity, there's no question," said Shelda Cochrane, the manager of community engagement.

The timing of the loss is especially painful, says Cochrane, because people are stuck at home and sorting through their closets.

She said the organization had no choice but to stop all collections.

"We want to make sure our staff and donors are safe, and of course, at this point we want to encourage the public to stay home."

Clothing donations account for a third of the operating budget for Big Brothers Big Sisters in the Halifax area. (Patrick Callaghan/CBC)

Cochrane said about 10 people are being laid off temporarily in the Halifax area as a result.

Another 40 people in Nova Scotia will lose their jobs temporarily with National Diabetes Trust, which collects clothing donations across the country for Diabetes Canada.

"It was the most difficult thing I've ever personally had to do," Sean Shannon, the trust's president and CEO, said of laying off his staff. He said there is a team of 500 employees who collect donations across Canada.

"We typically bring in nationally more than $5 million to Diabetes Canada."

Both organizations partner with the second-hand chain, Value Village, which is also closed. They sell their donations to Value Village and use the profit to operate programs.

Money collected by National Diabetes Trust also funds diabetes research.

Shannon said bins have been cleaned out and signs are up telling people not to donate.

Unfortunately, not everyone is paying attention, he said.

"It's very disappointing to me to see that there are some … who have just been leaving things all around these bins, which at this point in time we now cannot service," he said.

"They're sadly sitting there wasting and rotting and there's nothing anybody can do about it."

Shannon and Cochrane are encouraging people to continue to use this time to sort through their homes, but to store their donations at home.

Both organizations plan to get up and running as soon as it's safe to do so in an effort to make up for the losses they're currently experiencing.

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Carolyn Ray

Videojournalist

Carolyn Ray is a videojournalist who has reported out of three provinces and two territories, and is now based in Halifax. You can reach her at Carolyn.Ray@cbc.ca