BBB warns of pink bags popping up in Hamilton County

Image: WTVC

There's a new warning from the Better Business Bureau about those pink bags that are popping up in neighborhoods all around Hamilton County.

Chattanooga BBB president Jim Winsett says they could not get in touch with anyone at the charity/church organization NSPIRE. They've issued a warning to anyone hoping to donate to specifically donate to trusted organizations.

"Two key things are accountability and transparency," said Winsett. "This company has neither of those."

Winsett says the organization did not respond to the BBB when they asked for more information. "That immediately raises a flag to us as to actually what their mission and objective is," said Winsett.

Before the BBB issued their warning, we talked to Gregg Kennard on Facetime. He's the executive director of NSPIRE, which is based out of Lawrenceville, Georgia. He says the organization is both a charity and a church group that's been around for 20 years.

Kennard described NSPIRE as two outreach programs that hope to end homelessness and help victims of domestic abuse.

As for the pink bags that we're seeing in Hamilton County, Kennard says they've been in Tennessee now for about seven years. He says there's always some questions raised when they enter new communities.

We asked him what happens to the clothes after they are picked up. He says they do four things with the clothes:

  1. All clients who are in the program get wardrobes.
  2. They donate them to homeless people in the area in which the clothes were donated.
  3. They are given to people who call the organization asking for help.
  4. They sell them to thrift stores and use that money to go back into the program.

"It creates an income stream to support the program, and funds things like apartments, counseling, continued education, transportation, and the life-skill training we do for our clients," said Kennard.

However, the BBB could not prove this to be true. As mentioned previously, the BBB has no way to confirm this because they have yet to hear back from the organization.

The Tennessee Secretary of State fined NSPIRE $45,000 back in 2014. According to documents, they misrepresented themselves to donors. Kennard says it was cleared up. However, it's not clear if he paid the fine or if the state dropped the case.

When we asked what local organizations NSPIRE was partnering with, Kennard could not identify specific ones.

"We're still building some relationships there," Kennard said. "We have more partners in Nashville and Memphis because we've been there longer. We're in that startup stage right now."

We asked Kennard what he'd say to people who call his organization a scam. He says people just need to look closer.

"If you are just taking a look from a distance or just listening to a few media things or questions, you're not going to get the full scope," said Kennard. "After 12 years of doing this we have a great reputation."

We asked Winsett with the BBB what people should do if they get a pink bag on their mailbox. He offered these tips:

  1. Get the charities exact name. With so many charities in existence, mistaken identity is a common problem. Thousands of charities have "cancer" in their name, but no connection with one another.
  2. Resist pressure to give on the spot, whether from a telemarketer or door-to-door solicitor.
  3. Be wary of heart-wrenching appeals and emotion. What matters is what the charity is doing to help.
  4. Press for specifics. If the charity says it's helping the homeless, for example, ask how and where it's working.
  5. Check websites for basics. A charity's mission, program and finances should be available on its site. If not, check for a report at Give.org.
  6. Check with state charity officials. In many states, charities are required to register, usually with the office of the attorney general, before soliciting. Check with the office of Consumer Affairs in Tennessee and Georgia.
  7. Don't assume that every soliciting organization is tax exempt as a charity. Specific charity 501(c)3 regulations are required for tax deductions.

This is a developing story. We will update it with any new information.

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