Green Boxes Disappear from Streets amid Fraud Allegations

Berkeley Daily Planet/January 26, 2007
By Judith Scherr

First you see them. Then you don’t.

Owners of the 21 or so 6-foot-high green metal boxes with the friendly “Gaia” label on the front that once were scattered around Berkeley have been picked up by their owners, Humana People to People.

The boxes sprouted up around the city about a year or so ago, as a convenient way of leaving used clothes for recipients assumed to be people in need.

At least, that’s what most people thought until CBS’s 30 Minutes Bay Area exposed the outfit, also known as Teacher’s Group (or Tvind), as a multi-million dollar profit-making group. (Research on the organization can be seen at

The report contends that the donated items in the boxes were sold for the owners’ benefit, rather than given to charity.

“Critics call it a cult that is using people’s good will to make millions in profit,” the CBS show said.

After the program aired, the city got a number of calls asking about the boxes, according to Roy Phelps of the city manager’s office. “They didn’t have a permit,” he said. Once he realized they were illegal, he had the organization pick the boxes up. “They can apply for a permit,” he said.

Asked why the city didn’t contact the group earlier, Phelps answered that “some of them were on private property.” A number of the boxes, however, were on city sidewalks.

The organization, now worldwide, got its start in the 1970s as a radical education project in Denmark and was supported by the Danish government, according to the Tvindalert website. The same website reports that the founder is currently on trial in Denmark for fraud. The Daily Planet has not independently verified these reports.

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