There's always been a problem with donors, even those with the best intentions, passing on substandard items to the needy. Sometimes it's food well past its prime, frayed clothes or obsolete technology. There are no simple answers when it comes to the world of giving.
On one hand, it's clear that many packaged foods remain safe and perfectly edible long past manufacturer expiration dates, so it can make good economic and environmental sense for competitive businesses to donate unsold items to the hungry. On the other hand, what are the ethical responsibilities to make sure that product is really safe? And is the casting off of unwanted goods really in the spirit of charity, or something more gray?
These questions are even more complicated this holiday season, as community organizers try to grapple with the reality in the wake of this year's rash of tainted toy recalls. Contamination by lead has proved highly pervasive across many toy lines from many makers, adding up to at least 25 million items. Though the lion's share of problems have seemed to originate in China, the country makes so much stuff that simply avoiding products from there isn't easy for cash and donation-strapped groups. (However, for a partial list of exceptions, click here).
A number of groups are finding they must toss recalled toys they receive, and some are needing to recruit extra volunteers to inspect donations, reports USA Today. About 150 Salvation Army stores in the Southeast and South have even temporarily stopped accepting toy donations because they don't have enough staff to check them.
Perhaps not surprising, some groups are insisting that all toy donations be made in the U.S. or Canada. Minnesota's Delkor Systems, which sponsors a Toys for Tots drive, made that decision after the owner met a man whose son was hospitalized after swallowing Aqua Dots - those toys contaminated with the chemical in "date rape drugs."
The specter of lead toys has rippled deeper through society, affecting even charitable activities. If needy children get sick, or end up getting fewer toys for Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanza, that should rest heavy on the manufacturers who looked the other way when sourcing their materials. Perhaps they should be getting another lump of coal this year. It's certainly a strange world, in which donations require safety inspections.
Photo: Toy-drive organizers are trying to make sure recalled toys like these are kept out of needy kids' hands.
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