U.K. Teens Making Off with Donated Clothes

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February 13, 2011; Source: Sunday Mirror | In the movie version of “Oliver Twist,” Nancy said to Fagin, "I thieved for you when I was a child not half his age, and I've thieved for you ever since, don't you know it!" It seems that a Dickensian scheme maybe be underway in the U.K., organizing teenagers to climb into charity clothing bins and steal the clothing.

It doesn't appear to be random hooliganism, but a bit more organized, and according to the Mirror, a "fast-growing crimewave involv(ing) robbing charities of tonnes of clothes which are donated by the public for people living in poverty in Third World countries." Homeless men have sometimes invaded these bins, and unable to squeeze their way out, have sometimes suffocated and died, not just in England, but also in the U.S. This happened in 2006 in a Planet Aid donations box in Durham, N.C.

Teenagers, who seem to have less of a problem maneuvering in the bins, squeeze in and out of them as part of organized teams. Squeezing in like ferrets isn't the only mechanism of charity clothing robbery. Others use hooked walking sticks to fish clothing out. Others hack off locks to break into the bins.

The financial benefit of stealing and selling used clothing isn't much. These youth gangs are risking life and limb for a few euros of used clothing. So why then are people stealing donated clothing? Because in the UK like this country, the recession may be receding in terms of gross national economic indicators, but for poor people, the recession still rages.

"Charity begins at home," Dickens wrote in “Martin Chuzzlewit,” but the quote continued, "and justice begins next door." The recession has had little justice for these descendents of Oliver Twist, the Artful Dodger, and Fagin, and raiding charity clothing bins is just one indicator of what has happened to some people in the recession.—Rick Cohen