Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Sunday, January 13, 2019

Don’t blame charities for drop box deaths

Recently, a woman got trapped in a donation box in Toronto and died. A week earlier, a man died in a West Vancouver donation box. The media found that since 2015, eight people have died trying to get inside these clothing bins.

            Eight people! Wow! Shouldn’t that rate as a national security crisis?

            Critics called the bins “death traps.” A witness to the Toronto woman’s death said, “She was just utterly pinned in there… It was like an animal trap designed not to release her.”

            In a collection of panicky responses, West Vancouver ordered all donation bins in the city locked. Vancouver considered banning them completely. Diabetes Canada decided to retrofit all of its 4000 clothing donation bins across the country. Burnaby called for the removal of all bins.

            All of which seems to imply that hundreds of charities – national, regional, or local – are at fault for risking the public’s health.

            No one seems to be asking why the public is getting into the bins anyway.

            Ray Taheri, an engineering professor at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus, argued that homeless people or those in need will try to pull themselves inside the bins to reach the contents inside or to shelter themselves for warmth.

            Taheri described the victims as “desperate people.”

            Maybe some of them are. But some of them definitely are not desperate. Or homeless. Or even in need. 


Picking and choosing

            Global News featured video of a well-dressed young man extricating himself from the inside of a metal clothing bin. His escape required strength and agility far beyond the capabilities of any homeless men I know. 

            Anyone really desperate doesn’t need to steal. Any thrift shop will give items away to anyone who can’t afford a dollar or two.

            The Thrift Shop I know best, associated with the United Church in Lake Country, installed surveillance cameras because of the volume of thefts. 

            One of the thieves does, indeed, look somewhat destitute. But he loads up the trailer for his bicycle. And comes back 20 minutes later with an accomplice. She’s perhaps in her thirties. And she’s walking, both ways. 

            They were not succumbing to a casual impulse.

            They spent 47 minutes sorting through donations to select exactly what they wanted.

            Another night, the same couple had to came back a second time, because they couldn’t carry everything from their first visit. 


Always room for more

            Another video shows a young couple driving up in a relatively late-model black four-door Honda Civic. 

            The male driver grabs a large wicker basket, a donation, which he fills to overflowing with stolen clothes. His female companion sits in the car with her window down, smoking cigarettes and spitting butts onto the ground, while she instructs him which items to choose. 

            They fill the car’s back seat so full, they have to move front seats forward to make room.

            Ours is not the only Thrift Shop affected. Thieves also hit the donation bins at the shop that supports the Lake Country food bank. Even though it’s right across the street from the RCMP offices. 

            Their operation closed over the Christmas period. When they re-opened after New Year’s, they found not one donation in their drop box. Not one!


Not in need

            Yes, some people who raid clothing bins do use the clothing for themselves. Neighbours to the United Church Thrift Shop have watched people strip naked, put on fresh clothing from the donation box, and throw their dirty laundry through the slot.

            But the recent rash of thefts involves far more clothing and household goods than thieves could use for themselves. 

            Purely by coincidence, someone advertised (on VarageSale.com) a sale of second-hand clothing in the parking lot of a local pub. But the pub manager assured me they knew nothing about it.

            Unfortunately, there’s no way of tracking donated clothing that hasn’t been processed by volunteers inside the store yet. 

            Disclosure: I am not impartial about this story. The volunteers in the United Church Thrift Shop are friends. Without the revenues from the Thrift Shop, our church would have closed 30 years ago. 

            The shop also donates thousands of dollars every year to other community organizations. 

            I realize this protest is futile. I’m expecting thieves to have ethics, and self-centred jerks to have compassion for the less fortunate. But unless I protest, I’m condoning their actions.

            So let’s quit pretending that the people who raid donation boxes are somehow innocent victims of the charities’ carelessness. They’re thieves. Period. 


Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.

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Bob Rollwagen called last week’s column, about the ease with which hackers can get into crucial systems, “another good summary of current events. It would be difficult for anyone, regardless of orientation or faith to dispute. 

            “It is not disagreement that is needed but rather understanding and creative positive action that improves the life of all. Unfortunately intelligence (physical and human) and education is like wealth, not evenly distributed. It is partially genetics and partially a human-made condition. It is dangerous to assume that wealth and intelligence are related or even exist together. Similarly education, wealth, and power have random distributions among humans, and few humans illustrate an awareness that truly reflects their ownership in each category. Wealth tends to be the most obvious.

            “We are all wondering what the dark net is really like, and who has the upper hand at the moment.”


Tom Watson wrote, “The internet has opened up so many possibilities for us, and a lot of it is free. At least, we think it's free. Perhaps we should stop and ask: If a company gives away its product, how do the owners of that company become gazzillionaires? The answer: In turn for free, we users surrender all about ourselves, which is then bought and sold. In other words, we are the product. 

            “Recently, I had three messages from a hacker demanding Bitcoin payment. The hacker had my email address plus a password to my server that I quit using two years ago. My blood ran a little cold when I saw that. I didn't give in to the ransom demands but it did make me even more aware of just how vulnerable we are.”


Isabel Gibson commented, “John Robson [Ottawa columnist] says that optimism is a personality trait, while hope is a theological position.

            “No one looking forward to the coming year?  Maybe you need some younger friends.”

            JT: Any young people out there looking for an older friend?






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To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. (This is to circumvent filters that think too many links constitute spam.)

                       Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on Youtube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8

                       Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. More details at wwwDOTsinghallelujahDOTca

                       Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. <http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca>

                       I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom

                       Alva Wood’s satiric stories about incompetent bureaucrats and prejudiced attitudes in a small town -- not particularly religious, but fun; alvawoodATgmailDOTcom to get onto her mailing list.

                       Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet




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