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Have you noticed those big, green donation bins that mysteriously showed up on the sidewalks near neighborhood corners?

Maybe you had clothing gathering dust in your closet and dropped a bag of it in one of those green bins?

Did you go home with a warm glow knowing you had done your bit to help clothe someone in a far-off land who lacks the many resources and luxuries that we take for granted?

If so, I’m sorry to puncture your balloon, but you’ve been had, along with thousands of other unsuspecting Californians over the last several years.

On December 17, KCBS television broadcast an investigative report, “Behind the Green Box,” about this subject as a “30 Minutes Bay Area” story. [See text and video.]

In brief, this is a big-bucks money-raising scam for an international cult known as Tvind. The report by investigative reporter, Anna Werner, revealed that Gaia, or Campus California, is one of a multitude of organizations operating under the Tvind umbrella and it now has some 300 clothing bins in Northern California. In 2005, they collected over three million pounds of clothing.

Although the information posted on the boxes would lead donors to believe that the clothing would be donated to people in need in Africa, in reality it’s sold here, as well as in Japan and other international locales where American fashions are very much in demand.

According to the KCBS report, Campus California enjoys registered, non-profit status which means they are not paying taxes on the millions of dollars they’re grossing annually from clothing sales, despite indications that little (if any) of the proceeds are actually being used for charitable purposes.

What makes this situation doubly infuriating is that donations to reputable organizations such as Goodwill and St. Vincent de Paul are suffering as a result. Incredibly, in the space of just a few years, the conveniently placed Campus California bins are corralling a volume of contributions equivalent to that received by the long-established Salvation Army.

After the broadcast of the KCBS report, the City of Berkeley promptly ordered all the Campus California donation bins removed from city streets. Councilmembers Jean Quan and Pat Kernighan have consulted with the City Attorney’s office and agreed to sponsor legislation banning the donation boxes in Oakland, as well.

They do, however, need assistance in identifying the location of any bins currently in Oakland. The ones I’m already aware of are at the corner of Lakeshore and Mandana and another just off Park near the Parkway Theater. I’m also told one turns up on a regular basis at the corner of Monte Vista and Piedmont Avenues.

If you know of others, please email me at with “Donation Scam” listed as the subject. I’ve agreed to gather and collate this information and forward it to the council members for action.

[Editor’s note: See also this February 12, 2004 article from the Chicago Tribune: “The green bins of Gaia.”]