SIDNEY — Illegal use of products obtained from the Agape Distribution Nonprofit Store here in 2017 has prompted security changes that went into effect at the store, Jan. 1.
“None of it has anything to do with food. (Our new policy) will not affect food shoppers in any way,” said the Rev. John Geissler, Agape Distribution CEO.
Some people were acquiring items at Agape’s Nonprofit Store, a resource for area agencies and churches, and then selling them on the Internet or in online garage sales. Because the items were donated to Agape by companies who were claiming tax write-offs on the donations, those items could be for personal use only and could not be resold or bartered.
“We had a rash of this last year,” Geissler said. “It became quite a mess.”
Local nonprofit organizations and churches have been able to “shop” at Agape’s Nonprofit Store for free supplies and equipment that have been donated by area and national firms. The firms get a tax break for making the donations, but the items can be used only by nonprofits with the proper Internal Revenue Service registration.
The IRS designates nonprofits according to their missions. Nonprofit charitable institutions are registered as 501(c)(3). Those are the only ones that can use items acquired from Agape Distribution.
In the past, local nonprofits would send to Agape the names of people affiliated with them who were permitted to get items from Agape. It was some of those people who abused the system by either selling the items, themselves, or passing them on to friends of friends of friends who sold them, Geissler said. Doors, coolers, home improvement items, diapers, shampoo and other personal care items were showing up in “a slurry of Internet sales,” he added, all of them trackable through bar codes to the agencies whose representatives got them at the Nonprofit Store, then to Agape and in the end, to the original donors.
“If someone wanted to press it, the agencies (through which the abusers acquired goods) could lose their nonprofit status,” Geissler said. And when Agape staff tracked the abusers down and took the lists of names to agency directors, in many cases, the directors didn’t know the people whose names were on the lists their agencies had supposedly supplied.
To rectify the situation, Agape has put into place a security policy that now requires the director of a 501(c)(3)-designated agency or the minister of a church that has a 501(c)(3) designation to sign letters for each affiliated individual who might visit the store for items. Agape now issues a bar-coded, photo ID to each individual. After Feb. 1, no one without an ID will be able to shop at the Nonprofit Store. Only people affiliated with 501(c)(3)-registered organizations will be eligible for IDs, and their “purchases” will be attributed to their agencies through the ID bar codes.
Although he didn’t divulge a figure, Geissler said installing the technology to implement the new system, “cost quite a bit, but we had to do something to stop this.” He added that it took about 10 weeks of planning to devise the security system.
Agape sent letters recently to 216 organizations who have benefitted in the past from Agape’s store to let them know of the change. There are some agencies with 501(c) designations other than (3) and some churches that are not registered with the IRS who will no longer have shopping privileges at Agape. Geissler could not say how many such entities would be affected.
“Because they have to be vetted, many people who used to shop won’t be able to shop. Many of the churches not eligible are small, independent groups. That hurt, but we’re trying to stop the illegalities that we ran into last year,” he said. “I was anguished that they would take this stuff and try to sell it.”
The security measures have been in effect since Jan. 1 and are working very well, Geissler added.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.