Riverhead Charter School

Charter school reconsiders donation bin agreement with controversial group

The Riverhead Charter School is re-evaluating its arrangement with a controversial nonprofit following a Riverhead News-Review inquiry about placement of the organization’s donation bins in the school’s parking lot.

The newspaper emailed Raymond Ankrum, the school’s executive director and principal, this week seeking information about four yellow donation bins from Planet Aid that currently occupy two parking spots at the school on Route 25 in Calverton.

According to its website, Planet Aid, founded in 1997 in Massachusetts, sells donated clothes and uses the proceeds to fund “sustainable development projects all over the world.”

However, a joint international investigation conducted by Reveal, part of the Center for Investigative Reporting, and the News4 I-Team from the NBC affiliate in Washington, D.C., found that the Planet Aid is “connected to a controversial Danish organization called Tvind, also known as the Teachers Group,” according to a report published last May.

Federal investigators said in the report that “little to no money goes to the charities” with “funds ultimately controlled by” the Teachers Group, “who divert the money for personal use.”

Planet Aid denied the allegations.

Planet Aid brought in over $36 million from selling items in 2015, according to its finances analyzed by CharityWatch, an independent charity watchdog.

When asked if the Charter School was aware of that investigation, Mr. Ankrum said, “We were not aware of any controversy surrounding Planet Aid until you brought it to our attention in your email.

“We will research this matter closely and if the company’s overarching theme does not align with the ideals of our school, we will ask the company to remove the bins and contact other companies that are more closely aligned with our philanthropic goals,” he said.

Mr. Ankrum said the school reached out to three organizations that provide clothing donation bins and Planet Aid was the only one to respond.

This is the first time the school has had this type of arrangement with a charitable organization, Mr. Ankrum confirmed, adding that the donation bins were dropped off at the end of February and the school receives no funds from Planet Aid for the use of its parking lot.

“Parents, students and staff love it and know that the spirit of the donation bins came from a place of kindness and concern for the welfare of people that could benefit from the donations,” he said.

When asked if the location of the bins has caused any parking problems or taken away spaces the school is required to provide, Mr. Ankrum said, “The company has been alerted that the current placement of the bins is off and the bins need to be moved onto the grass.

“At current,” he added, “the parking spots that are occupied by the bins do not disrupt our everyday routine.”

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Photo: Planet Aid donation bins last Saturday at Riverhead Charter School. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)