Paul Hughes, spokesman for the Irish Charity Shops’ Association, said the dent in their income due to thefts — perpetrated mainly by Eastern European and African-based gangs — was seriously affecting their ability to help people who were genuinely in need.
Among the 16 charities affected are the Irish Cancer Society, Barnardos, Age Action, Enable Ireland, Threshold, St Vincent de Paul, the Simon Community and MS Ireland.
Mr Hughes, who is also general manager of the Irish Cancer Society’s charity shops, said the only way to ensure donations were going to genuine charities was to take them directly to their shops.
Mr Hughes said charities had changed collection times and routes to try to “keep ahead” of criminals who were waiting and watching their routine and stealing the bag before they were picked up by their intended recipients.
However, he said this wouldn’t totally solve the significant theft problem and he urged communities to come together in groups and work on a collective basis to ensure that the bags are kept somewhere safe before being handed on directly to the charity shops they are destined for.
Garda sources maintain Lithuanian and Latvian gangs are the worst perpetrators when it comes to charity clothing thefts.
The gangs clean the clothes and sell them on in markets and shops in Eastern Europe and Africa.
Mr Hughes said leaflets purporting to be for legitimate charities were being dropped into houses by criminal gangs.
He said all genuine charities will drop bags with their names clearly printed on them to households, but bogus collectors simply leave leaflets that will not have an address or landline number on them.