Donation boxes for an entity no one knows anything about are being placed in front of vacant Janesville properties without the permission of their owners.
Mike Lukas found one of the boxes asking for shoes and clothing in front of his property on Center Avenue. They claim to be collecting the materials for "Reeds Recovering House," which "provide(s) low cost clothing to underprivileged households." However, there's no such business or non-profit of that name registered in Wisconsin nor is there any record of a "Reeds Recovering House" online.
"It just doesn't sound like a legitimate charity," said Lukas. "I don't care if they're for-profit. I just think they should put that on there."
There are at least four of these collection boxes located around Janesville, each in front of a commercial property that's vacant. One is at the Blackhawk Shopping Center, a few blocks south of Lukas's property, and two more are on Milton Avenue, within a mile of the interstate.
Lukas called the toll-free number displayed on the collection box several times and left messages, but has not heard back. His outreach to the Better Business Bureau yielded more puzzled looks and verification that his initial instinct to be wary of the boxes was correct.
"I'm just sitting here thinking, as I have been since this came out, how could this be a scam?" said Kimberly Hazen, who runs the southwest chapter of the Wisconsin Better Business Bureau. "It's not transparent. You know, charities need to be transparent. Businesses need to be transparent. We need to know where these people operate."
Hazen said consumers leaving materials inside donation boxes like these and then, claiming tax deductions for the charitable giving, need to make sure they research who they're giving to, so as not to violate tax laws. In the case of Reeds Recovering House, Hazen said they'd come up empty.
"Whenever there's that shroud, that wall of no information on a company, I have to think there's something weird behind it," she said.
Lukas took the donation box off his property and put it inside his garage. Yet, he was told by the Janesville Police Department to treat it as "abandoned property," which means he is not allowed to dispose of it until 21 days after contacting its owner. The city does not regulate collection boxes.
He's urging caution to his neighbors.
"People tend to be generous and if they feel the charity is legitimate, they'll give premium goods to what they think is good use, but if they're donating to a thrift store, I think the content and the volume would be different," Lukas said. "They're not being upfront about exactly what they're doing. Even if they're recycling clothes for profit, I have no problem with that, but don't make it appear for a charity.
"That's my problem with it. I don't think it's a real charity."