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Outside the box and proud of it! I consider the headline on your article about us (“Outside the Box,” 2/2) the most positive and accurate representation of Planet Aid in the entire article. I find it curious that the author, Dave Mann, has chosen to focus on statements and unfounded accusations expressed by disgruntled individuals without bothering to describe the extensive development work Planet Aid carries out. Mikael Norling and I talked to Mann at length and provided extensive information about Planet Aid both over the phone and in print.

Because none of that information made it into the article, I would like to take this space to explain what Planet Aid is doing, how our clothes collection works, and why we ask the public to support us through donating clothes.

The fact is that we live in a world of both great riches and devastating poverty, and we in this country happen to live in a part of the world that has great surplus. This surplus is not only a surplus of money or commodities, but also a surplus of, for example, education, information, and access to health care. Among the programs that Planet Aid supports is an award-winning AIDS program. The Total Control of the Epidemic (TCE) program is carried out by Humana People to People affiliates in Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Mozambique. Programs like this are about 80 percent supported by contributions from the general public in the form of clothes and, to a lesser degree, cash. Humana People to People’s TCE program was awarded a prestigious prize by the Arab Gulf Programme for United Nations Development Organizations in Geneva last November.

Planet Aid was founded in January 1997 with the explicit purpose to channel some of the surplus we have here in the United States to people in need in other countries. To this end, we have chosen the collection of used clothing as a main activity. The first couple of years, Planet Aid shipped more than 250 tons of clothing to Angola and donated thousands of dollars to projects in Angola and Zimbabwe. Since then, Planet Aid has started community-development projects in Nicaragua and Guatemala, and we continue to support the programs in Africa.

In the fall of 2000, it was decided to expand Planet Aid’s clothes-collection activities to the Washington area in the belief that we would find a generous population with an international mind-set to help us generate funding for the new programs in Central America and for our programs in Africa. We have had a very positive response from both the business community and from people in general. In little more than one year, we have managed to build a self-sustaining operation that without outside funding is able to recycle a good deal of clothing, thus saving thousands of pounds from landfills and at the same time generating a monetary surplus to support the AIDS program and many other programs.

And that is without asking anybody to donate as much as a single dollar. All we are asking for is the shirt you no longer use.

The point that Mann is trying to make with his article seems to be that Planet Aid is affiliated with organizations that are accused of all kinds of bad things, including taking the money for their own purposes rather than for the people in need. That would indeed be a terrible thing if it were true, but it is not. None of the claims in the article are based on facts; they are nothing but unfounded accusations or the discontent experienced by an individual more than 10 years ago. To give an example, the article mentions a Swedish study that found that only 2 percent of the donated means were used for development by Humana People to People. What the article fails to mention is that the “study” that led to this conclusion was flawed and that the claim later had to be retracted.

Planet Aid is a registered nonprofit organization. We follow the same regulations as all other nonprofits in this country. Our books are audited every year, and our tax return is public record. We have a committed and hardworking staff, and we will be more than happy to come and talk to groups and organizations that are interested in leaning more about Planet Aid. Our main focus is on helping people in developing countries, but we also recognize the importance of educating the communities we work in about our causes, just as we try to support local charities and organizations in their endeavors to help people at home. Requests for clothing are welcome. Please contact us at (301) 883-0005 or send e-mail to eneltrup@planetaid.org.

Director of Operations Greater Washington Area Planet Aid