Under the cover of darkness Monday night, a sedan quickly pulls away from the donation dumpster in the north parking lot of the Redlands Center, located at the corner of Elm Street and Country Club Road.
In less than five hours the donation box had gone from servicing a needy cause to an eyesore of unwanted items from local residents. Some of those items, like a sleeper sofa, are not designated to be deposited there.
The donation box is serviced by the Oklahoma division of American Textile Recycling Service. The Houston-based company collects clothing and shoes and makes a donation to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) for every pound it collects.
ATRS, which has two boxes in El Reno, says the site at the Redlands Center has become a constant problem.
“We have got one box in El Reno there at the Redlands Center that is getting used as a dump. When we see these things occur, we try to keep them clean but if the problem keeps occurring and we cannot keep it clean, we have to look at other locations to move the boxes,” said Glen Hayes, Oklahoma operations manager for ATRS.
The problem is not confined to the one box.
The pink donation boxes spotted around El Reno, meant to help in the fight against breast cancer, have become another dumping site for unwanted property by residents.
The Susan G. Komen Foundation of Western and Central Oklahoma is the monetary beneficiary of collection boxes set up on several El Reno school sites.
The boxes are branded and serviced by another Houston-based company, American Recyclers, on behalf of the Komen Foundation.
The boxes are clearly marked for clothing and shoes. The printed sign on the front says the box accepts clothes, undergarments, shoes, belts and purses.
However, on Monday morning, the box at Hillcrest Learning Center had a chair sitting next to it while pieces of underwear were scattered along the lawn.
The box in the parking lot north of El Reno High School was cluttered with items such as a wheeled shopping cart, old toilet seat, a suitcase, furniture, a bag with medical equipment, books and records.
“Someone had mentioned to me that they had seen property at one of the boxes that was not meant for either food or clothing.
“However, I have not heard that it was a major problem of people abusing those boxes,” said El Reno Assistant City Manager Matt Sandidge.
Sandidge said he was told that someone had left a rabbit cage by one of the donation boxes.
“These are not Goodwill drop sites,” said Sandidge.
Sandidge said the owners of the donation boxes have agreements with the property owners and the city does not clean up the area around those boxes.
“I would say that is illegal dumping. If it’s not meant for the box and it does not fit in the box, then that goes against the agreement that the box owner has with the property owner,” said Sandidge.
Hayes said his company has an agreement with property owners in which ATRS boxes sit.
Collections are made weekly from those boxes.
“We have a standing rule of 10 foot around every box, we pick up all items no matter what it is. We drive over our routes every five days and we never go more than six days without making a pickup. We have to clean it up, otherwise we lose the location,” said Hayes.
Sandidge said he would have to check with the city marshal’s office for clarification but any citizen caught leaving items not meant for those boxes could be subject to a warning or even a citation.
“It would not be treated any differently as if I were to drive out into the country and toss out my trash. I think if they are caught they could get a warning or a ticket,” said Sandidge.
El Reno School Superintendent Craig McVay said the district was made aware in early July the donation boxes had not been serviced.
“No one takes care of those boxes or services them and I don’t know why. It’s a great cause but the boxes have become an eyesore and a dumping ground. We were made aware of the problem but the contact number we have has been disconnected,” said McVay.
McVay said the district has had to clean up around the boxes on the school grounds.
“I don't know how much we have spent cleaning up but we are limited on our staff and going around picking up stuff at the boxes that have not been serviced in months is not a good use of our resources.
“What we will do is go pick up that stuff and put it in our dumpsters and Oklahoma Environmental Management Authority will pick them up and haul it off to the dump. So it’s a good cause gone wrong,” said McVay.
McVay said the district has decided to pick up the donation boxes on school grounds and put them into storage.
“We will have to pick them up and take them out to maintenance,” said McVay.
The box at the Redlands Center, said Hayes, will more than likely be moved in the near future. However, the items in the box and around it were to be removed on Tuesday.
“We just had a meeting today about that box,” said Hayes.
Calls to both the Susan G. Komen Foundation of Western and Central Oklahoma and American Recyclers at the number listed on the donation boxes were not returned.