PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Many of us have made a habit of donating our old clothes and household items to Goodwill and other non-profits that benefit the less fortunate.

But the KDKA Investigators have found that not all thrift stores are equal.

At the Goodwill store on the South Side, shoppers like Michelle Spolter are not only saving a buck, they’re helping out needier people than they.

“The fact that when you shop here, you’re helping your neighbors, you’re helping your community,” says Spolter.

But shoppers and donors at the Red, White and Blue Thrift Store on Ohio River Boulevard and on Saw Mill Run may be surprised to learn that it is not a charity organization, but rather a for-profit business.

“I actually stopped going there and stopped donating when I found out that it was a privately-owned store; versus, I’ve been coming here [Goodwill] for several years, and I know exactly where my contributions are going,” Spolter said.

The confusion about Red, White and Blue is understandable. Most of the goods sold there are collected by vans that bear the name PickUpPlease.org, a service of an organization called the Vietnam Veterans of America.

Red, White and Blue pays the veteran organization a fee for the goods and clothes, and then sells them at a profit.

In a phone interview with their headquarters in California, a Red, White and Blue representative confirmed that they are for-profit but said that vets benefit indirectly.

However, a recent report by the organization CharityWatch says only 18 percent of the money collected by Vietnam Veterans of America actually goes to programs benefiting veterans. Nearly all of the workers observed driving those vans were too young to have served in Vietnam.

Still, donors do get a tax deduction and PickUpPlease.org vans offer the convenience of coming to your home to pick up your goods.

“A lot of folks like to donate in places where it’s convenient, but we hope that they take a good look at where they’re donating to make sure it’s a place that they really think it’s a good use of their goods,” said David Tobiczyk, of Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Locally, Goodwill and eight other thrift store charities, including the Salvation Army and the St. Vincent DePaul Society, have formed an alliance, ensuring shoppers and donors that their goods and purchases will benefit people in southwestern Pennsylvania.

“There’s a lot of different organizations you can donate to,” Tobiczyk said. “The folks in the ANS, the Alliance of Nonprofit Stores; we’re organizations that are reputable and we’re local and we do good work here in Western Pennsylvania.”

The Vietnam Veterans of America did not return numerous phone calls to their Silver Springs, Md., headquarters. But it is one of several veteran organizations that are under scrutiny by charity watch groups who question just how much they’re helping those who have valiantly served our country.

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