Archive for the ‘Charity’ Category

Service of a $200,000 Watch and Nowhere to Go

Thursday, March 25th, 2021

Patek Philippe sports watch Photo: Luxury of Watches

Excess at a time when so many citizens suffer strikes a wrong note.

The pandemic opened eyes to hunger and financial distress in this country exacerbated by furloughs and firings. Sigal Samuel on vox.com wrote: “56 percent of US households gave to charity or volunteered in response to the pandemic, and the first half of 2020 saw a 12.6 percent increase in the number of new donors to charity compared to one year ago.”

Nevertheless spending on luxuries goes on more than usual. The capitalist in me says “That’s good–people are employed and businesses thrive” followed by a but….

Photo: bestbridalshop.com

A few days after I heard about a bride from a hardworking middle class family paying $6,000 for a wedding dress I saw Jacob Bernstein’s New York Times article “Here’s How Bored Rich People Are Spending Their Extra Cash.” I wondered if for every luxury buy the purchasers sent an equivalent amount to a charity. I did a hasty Google search to find articles about individual charitable donations in the $200,000 to $6 million range equal to some of the items identified below. I didn’t find any– which doesn’t mean none were given.

About the $6,000 wedding dress, a contemporary of mine said that the price tag is expected and only a starting point, though other friends knew of brides who looked heavenly and recently spent in the $1,500 range.

Bernstein reported that big spenders once called themselves collectors but now refer to themselves as investors. He wrote: “Rather than elbowing past each other for reservations at the latest restaurants from Marcus Samuelsson and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, or getting into bidding wars for apartments at 740 Park Avenue, they are one-upping each other in online auctions for jewelry, watches, furniture, sports cards, vintage cars, limited-edition Nikes and crypto art.”

740 Park Avenue. Photo: streeteasy.com

Retailers are sensitive to the situation. Some wouldn’t speak with him on the record about sales. One admitted almost selling out $90,000 earrings. A Patek Philippe sports watch that retails at $85,000 “can seldom be found on 47th Street for much less than $200,000.” [47th Street is the jewelry district in Manhattan.] An expert told Bernstein that demand for these watches remained as Switzerland closed down due to the pandemic. He said that the money spent on travel is directed to collectibles–uh, investments.

Bernstein reported a 1973 Porsche sold for $1.2 million last year when before the pandemic the same make and model sold for $560,000.

“In February, a digital artwork of Donald Trump facedown in the grass, covered in words like ‘loser,’ sold for $6.6 million, a record for a nonfungible token, or NFT, so called because there’s no physical piece for the buyer to take possession of.”

You get the gist. Bernstein shares many more examples.

Have you heard of record-breaking charitable donations during the pandemic?  As for collectors of pricey items calling themselves investors: Does paying outrageous prices during extraordinary circumstances sound like the makings of a very good investment to you? But what do I know? I think paying $6,000 for a wedding dress is over the top. And you?

Porsche 1973 Photo: opumo.com

 

Service of How to Discourage Me From Opening My Checkbook for Your Charity

Thursday, February 11th, 2021

Photo: thelifeyoucansave.com

I’ve covered charity here 28 times. Today I’m writing about how an organization that might seek my support can turn me off.

Each bullet refers to a bone I’ve picked with a different organization.

I would ask a charity to please:

  • charitynavigator.org

    Respond to my request to delete my deceased husband’s name from their database especially when I’ve included a donation with the change of name information. This isn’t a tiny, struggling organization but a gargantuan one that mails printed pitches every quarter. My mother had the same issue with a different organization deaf to her similar requests in the mid-1980s and eventually she stopped donating. Clearly topnotch computer programs haven’t helped.

  • Improve your profile on charitynavigator.com. Don’t pay your chief executive officer over $700,000 and spend 25 percent of your budget on marketing. I missed a bullet when I checked out this well known organization that dealt with a friend’s interest. It was to be his birthday gift.
  • Allow me, on your website donation form, to dedicate a donation either in celebration of or in memory of a friend or relative.
  • Confirm that you have notified the friend or family member I’ve asked you to alert that a donation was made in their or their loved one’s name.  So many people don’t acknowledge gifts and it’s awkward to ask if they’ve been informed.

Have you encountered irritations when selecting or dealing with a charity? Which are your favorites?

Photo: canadahelps.org

Service of Terrible Decisions: Pay Bills or Buy Gifts for the Children?

Thursday, December 17th, 2020

Photo: lifelessons.co

I saw a Facebook posting in which a single mother grieved that she was overwhelmed by debt with no end in sight. She was jobless. She worried that she didn’t know how she’d manage to buy Christmas gifts for her children.

One comment caught my eye. The writer reprimanded the mother for thinking about gifts when she owed money. She should pay her bills and forget presents, she scolded.

I empathize with the mother. Imagine if you’re faced with eviction, starvation, and possibly illness without medical care for you and your family. The looks of disappointed children who may understand what’s going on at home but nevertheless hope for a surprise would add to an already astronomical heartache. [I am sorry I rushed by the post at the time and didn’t track down the mother.]

Photo: worldvision.org

Churches, organizations and clubs around the country traditionally had giving trees this time of year, all cancelled now, while at the same time the need for basics by millions has exploded. There was nothing frivolous about the wishes I took from such trees. Written on paper ornaments or tags were requests for a warm coat for an infant; a housecoat for a senior. Real estate companies at some of the larger buildings in NYC showed off the bicycles, games and dolls slated for children associated with a charity.

Not this Christmas.

The economy isn’t going to snap back even after 70 percent of us are vaccinated. Millions will continue to suffer.

Photo: johnmini.com

As I pass residential and commercial lobbies in Manhattan I see gargantuan Christmas trees decorated to death. They cheer for the moment tenants and guests dash by. What if co-op and condo boards and tenants in rentals voted to skip the trees and donate the budgeted money for food, warm clothing or gifts for little ones? There might be a collection in each building to buy a few poinsettia plants for a lobby instead.

But such efforts are miniscule potatoes.

All around the country small businesses have crumbled and with them the hopes and savings of the owners. Thousands have been let go by giant corporations. I fear another stimulus check–$3,600 for a couple with two children–while better than nothing won’t make much of a dent on past due rent, electric, phone and credit card bills.

I’ve written before about the thrill of sending a surprise to a child through the Letters to Santa program. This year the link is https://about.usps.com/holidaynews/operation-santa.htm. The site reported that 23,244 letters have been adopted so far! In addition, when I looked early this morning I read: “There are none left now, but check back later. We add more every day.” Aren’t Americans wonderful?

There are 630 $billionaires in the US according to cnbc.com. It would help if each tossed in one of those billions to pay the rent and essential bills of the unemployed. A compensation lawyer such as Kenneth Feinberg who deftly handled the 9/11 and BP cases, among many, could organize and direct the distribution.

What might non-billionaires do?  What choice should a mother in such a predicament make?

 

Service of Making the Comfortable Decision: Thanksgiving 2020

Monday, November 23rd, 2020

 

Photo: patch.com

I like being in control. That’s one of the terrifying things about the deadly virus. At the moment, it has us all by the short hairs and will until most of us have been injected with two doses of vaccine so it can follow the demise of smallpox and all sorts of other  worldwide plagues.

There’s hardly a newscast that doesn’t warn about Thanksgiving 2020 whether it involves traveling–don’t–suggesting that college students think twice about returning home and recommending that folks celebrate exclusively with those in their households.

In accordance with my response to the 2020 census, that would be me.

Nevertheless I plan to make the usual: sweet potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce and apple pie as, until recently, I’ve done for decades. Don’t yet know about the poultry. [I hear an outcry from balanced meal enthusiasts who wonder “where is the green vegetable?” Answer: I’ll eat a ton of salad the day before.]

And as always, I will relish Friday’s leftovers.

Grow up people. Traditions are off kilter this year. Get over it.

Food lines 2020 Photo: reuters.com

I feel no sympathy for those who whine about giving up their traditions of celebrating at their Colorado condo or visiting a brother in Cincinnati. One woman wailed on Facebook that she’ll be alone with her husband, not entertaining her 10 grandchildren and their parents. She could send a check for the cost of the dinner to a food pantry while counting her blessings that she has a husband to share dinner with and a lovely family she’ll hug next summer–if we’re lucky.

Tyler Perry donated dinners to 5,000 hungry people in Atlanta over the weekend. There are countless charities desperate for help. Yesterday NPRs Lulu Garcia-Navarro interviewed Katherina Rosqueta, founder and director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy, in a segment “How To Give Back During The Coronavirus Pandemic.” The focus of high impact philanthropy is to improve lives of others rather than maximize tax benefits or honor someone. The major takeaway: cash is better than goods as its more flexible under circumstances where volunteers to distribute food or other goods are hobbled due to the pandemic.

Leftover lunch on Black Friday Photo: foodandwine.com

It doesn’t soothe my Covid-19 anxiety that the president is distracted about his lost election and isn’t watching the store. The one hour he gave to join the virtual G-20 summit this weekend, with Covid-19 high on the agenda, was hardly enough. During his “attendance” he tweeted about election results in Michigan according to John Follain, Arne Delf, Ilya Arkhipov and Josh Wingrove reporting for Bloomberg.com.

In addition, the angry pandemic is raging again. It’s time to stay within our safety comfort zones and to focus on what we’re thankful for, not on what we’re giving up. My cup runneth over. Speaking of cups, I might buy a very nice wine to sip during dinner and while chatting with friends and family. I am blessed with a vivid imagination and will hug my family members and friends virtually. They don’t love me more or less because I’m not with them.

What are your plans? Do you feel pressured to give up your Covid cautious routine or do you think it’s all a lot of hooey and that people who are ducking tradition this year are pitiable?

Food Lines 2020 Photo: theguardian.com

Service of What You Think of When You Walk Alone

Monday, September 21st, 2020

Photo: flickr.com

I was on a quick 20 block walk on Friday and jotted down a few of the things I thought of on my way.

Does the UN clean the flags outside?

photo: sites.google.com

As I passed the flags outside the UN I noticed that they looked shabby and needed to be cleaned. The UN General Assembly, in its 75th year, is largely virtual this September which may be one reason. Staff is no doubt busy cleaning the inside of the building to meet pandemic standards for those who are at work and will be attending meetings in person.

When I got home I Googled the question and while I didn’t learn the answer I saw that there are 193 flags arranged alphabetically–Afghanistan to Zimbabwe–from North to South and that staff raises and lowers them Monday through Friday at 8 am and 4 pm respectively.

Remembering automatic things

Waiting in line to enter Trader Joe’s earlier in the day I struck up a conversation with the woman ahead of me who said she couldn’t believe that she’d left her apartment without her mask. She was so lucky, she said, because a store across the street from TJ’s sold them. She’d forgotten three times, she said. I suggested she carry an extra as I do.

I’ve had trouble remembering whether I’ve fulfilled routine actions as long as I can remember. As a child I’d sometime get a sinking feeling if I was the last one out of the family apartment when I’d think, “Did I double lock the front door?” It was something I’d done countless times without focusing.

Restaurants open at 4 pm in Manhattan

As I passed by restaurants on First Avenue it took me a second to realize why so many serious ones are open from 4 pm-9 pm during the week: They must not attract a sufficient lunchtime crowd to pay for a second shift of wait and kitchen staff. We continue to have only outdoor dining in NYC.

Some affluent people are stingy and some of modest means are generous

I think about this a few times a year and haven’t found a valid explanation. What triggered my thoughts last Friday was how a friend said he’d donated to political candidates through ActBlue well over 100 times since the political campaigns began last June.  I know people who work hard and do well but are not affluent–they carefully pick and choose where they spend their money–yet they are munificent in their donations to charities and causes. Others with deep pockets, who donate neither time nor treasure, spend plenty on themselves but not others. They would time donations only if theirs was loudly acknowledged.

What do you think about when alone running errands, taking a walk or out and about in the car? Do you know how often the UN cleans or changes its flags? How do you ensure you’ve satisfied actions you should make automatically? Are the restaurants–not takeout–where you live open for lunch and dinner during the week? What’s the deal about stingy wealthy people and generous people of modest means?

Angelletto Restaurant NYC Photo: tripadvisor.com

Service of Fingers Crossed: When to Believe Thieves

Thursday, September 10th, 2020

Photo: smithsonianmag.com

When you comply to a ransom demand you’re not in the driver’s seat. You must hope that the thieves are honorable. If you watch “Law and Order” or its offshoots,  you’re familiar with the concept even if you’ve not yourself been plagued by such a horrifying theft.

The cyberthieves Sarah Cascone wrote about on artnet.com hadn’t absconded with a relative. Her article was: “Hackers Have Stolen Private Information From Donor Lists to 200 Institutions, Including the Smithsonian and the UK’s National Trust.” The subhead was: “The Parrish Art Museum and the Corning Museum of Glass were also hit by ransomware.” In addition to museums, data from hospitals, 16 US universities and 33 UK charities was lifted.

Photo: parrishart.org

According to Cascone, the attack on Blackbaud–“a third-party cloud software company”–happened in May. Blackbaud told its clients a month later. They said that “the compromised data was limited to demographic information such as names, addresses, phone numbers, and donation summaries, and did not include credit card information, bank account information, or social security numbers.” We hope.

Cascone reported that the Corning Museum said it doesn’t “keep credit cards, bank accounts, or social security numbers in the system hosted by Blackbaud.” One wonders where do they keep it and is it safe?

Photo: credibly.com

Blackbaud said it paid the cybercriminals and confirmed that they had destroyed what they’d stolen, according to Cascone. They paid in Bitcoin. “’What I find unsettling about Blackbaud’s situation is that they just took the hackers at their word that the stolen data was destroyed. In my experience, hackers almost always leave behind hard-to-find malware so that they can still access the system,’ said Wood.” Tyler Cohen Wood is a cyber-security consultant and the former cyber deputy chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Cascone continued: “She advises that museums employing third-party providers familiarize themselves with the company’s procedures for handling ransomware attacks and to have secure data backups, even if that means paying extra.”

If you were notified by an organization that such a breach had occurred, would you get a new credit card or bank account number even if you were told the cybercriminals had no access to–or had destroyed–that information? Have you ever asked an organization to which you donate money how they protect your financial and personal information? Is cash the only secure way to donate?

Photo: passwordboss.com

Little Things Mean A Lot II

Thursday, May 7th, 2020

I recently wrote about personal gifts from friends and family that cheered the recipients during the pandemic in the first “Little Things Mean A Lot” post. I’ve also noticed efforts of citizens who take advantage of their contacts and/or talents to create popup fundraising opportunities. Plugging in to such efforts makes it simple for the rest of us to do a little something that collectively can mean a lot in an otherwise helpless period given strictures of social distancing and increasing sparsity of disposable income. A plus: you know that your donation goes directly to those in need.

It’s not surprising that the initiatives I selected involve donations of food.

The manager of my apartment building and his wife make 100 sandwiches a week for “One Sandwich at a Time” and invited tenants to join them. He also launched a food drive. Tenants drop off shopping bags full of groceries in the lobby. [I took the photo above early the morning after his announcement]. I see a hearty number of different bags every time I go downstairs. The drive is scheduled to last until the end of the month.

Every other Saturday night from 8:00 to 10:00 p.m. Julian Gordon and Tim O’Hara produce streaming fundraising concerts on Facebook–An Evening with Tim and Julian–to benefit The Sharing Place, a food pantry in Jersey City. They have raised some $2,200 in two concerts. Guests joined them on May 2; some performed songs that Julian wrote. The next concert is scheduled for May 16. Link to their Facebook page for updates.

Do you know of grassroots efforts that support food pantries or other ways people are amplifying what they can give to help those adversely impacted by the pandemic?

Julian Gordon, left, and Tim O’Hara, “An Evening with Tim and Julian.”

Service of Little Things Mean A Lot

Monday, April 6th, 2020

Photo: ballooncoach.com

We hear on the news and on social media about the magnificent donations of goods, services and salaries that corporations and billionaires are making to help shoulder the damage and havoc the coronavirus is causing.  Hotel tycoon Sheldon Adelson is paying salaries and estimated tips of almost 10,000 employees at the shuttered Las Vegas Sands; Oprah Winfrey is donating $10 million to relief efforts and Robert Kraft of the Patriots used the team’s jet to bring in almost 2 million N95 masks from China. He shipped 300,000 of them to NYC’s healthcare workers. A Brooklyn landlord–owner of 18 residential buildings–told tenants they didn’t have to pay April rent.

Just as important are less flamboyant unpublicized gifts from friends and family.

Photo: patriotswire.usatoday.com

A friend mailed a face mask to me when she heard I couldn’t find one for love or money and she knew I grocery shop and go for brisk walks in NYC. It was a priceless gift.

I mentioned a futile search to a friend, I’ll call Dorothy, for a thermometer for another friend, I’ll call Donna. I’d stopped in at every pharmacy and drugstore, hardware and health food store between 39th and 56th Streets on First, Second and Third Avenues. There wasn’t one. Dorothy found a thermometer in its original packaging in her apartment and mailed it to Donna. Pay dirt! Another precious gift.

Photo: medscape.com

Another friend who lives alone wrote: “My children decided the delivery service I use needs too many hands touching the food they deliver.  Consequently they will do my shopping.  In my last order I received 4 cucumbers, 5 heads of lettuce, a pint of 1/2 & 1/2 and I can go on. Now I may not die of the virus but I might succumb to overeating. The things we do for love!”

A daughter living in NYC ordered a surprise package filled with goodies from chicken breasts to biscuits for her father and step mother who are sheltering in place in Massachusetts. Another friend took lists of groceries from her mother and landlord and delivered them so the other women didn’t need to venture out.

Why didn’t these people order food online? Those who do report wait time for delivery is almost a week. Good luck if you’ve run out of milk, coffee or juice.

Have you heard of or experienced similar loving, even life-saving gestures by friends and family?

Service of Charity V: 13 is a Charm for Christopher Leadership Award Winner

Tuesday, May 28th, 2019

Mary Ellen Robinson, vice president, COO, Secretary of The Christophers with Frank Siller, winner of the 2019 Christopher Leadership Award

Being charity-minded and selfless came naturally to the Siller children. Last week Frank Siller told a New York City audience about the Thanksgiving his mother picked up the turkey from the dining room table and brought it to a family she had just heard was less well off than hers, and they were poor. Siller was so young he didn’t remember but his older brother tells the story. Their father–eventually there were seven children–spent Saturdays at a hospital chatting or praying with the ill–whatever was needed.

Frank Siller, left, and Christopher Awards MC Ernie Anastos, anchor/producer, Fox 5, NY

The story the chairman and CEO of the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation told that touched me the most happened after his First Holy Communion. He’d received a stack of envelopes from well wishers the contents of which totaled $26. His mother took him for a walk that day and asked him how much he would give to those in need. He tested the water and suggested $13, which his mother accepted. He said that today, he can’t remember what he bought with his $13 but he remembers, in retrospect, how he felt about $13 he gave away.

To honor their brother, Stephen Siller, a New York City firefighter who was killed on 9/11, Siller and his siblings launched the foundation to aid catastrophically injured veterans, first responders, and Gold Star families. For this Frank Siller was honored with The Christopher Leadership Award that recognizes individuals whose work, actions, and example serve as a guiding light to others. I heard Siller address the other winners of Christopher Awards–for their winning feature films, TV/Cable programs, and books for adults and young people–and guests who gathered for the 70th Annual Christopher Awards.

Some of the Christopher Award winning authors who attended the 70th Christopher Awards in New York City are, from the left, Torrey Maldonado, “Tight;” Linsey Davis, “The World is Awake;” Jeffrey Kluger, “To the Moon!;” Ruby Shamir, “To the Moon!;” David Blight whose book “Frederick Douglass” also won a Pulitzer Award and Beth Hautala, “The Ostrich and Other Lost Things.”

The Foundation began locally and now has a national reach building specially adapted smart homes for members of the military who have lost arms and legs, pays off mortgages for families of first responders who have been killed in the line of duty and supports Gold Star families and supports community programs around the country. Since its inception, the Foundation has raised over $125 million dollars, with 95 cents of every dollar going to programs.

St. Francis of Assisi said “While we have time, let us do good,” which the siblings adopted as the Foundation’s motto because they heard their parents frequently repeat those words. This motto fits hand-in-hand with The Christophers’ motto: “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness,” which guides its publishing, radio, online, and awards programs.

Do you think it is easier for poor people to give to charity than for the comfortable? I am always amazed by Americans’ generosity. Is giving to charity cultural? Did your family guide or inspire you to give time or money to support causes that were meaningful to you?

From the left presenters at the 70th Annual Christopher Awards ceremony: Tony Aiello, reporter, WCBS-TV, NY; Joan Bauer, author, three-time Christopher Award winner; Paula Faris, ABC News anchor and host of the “Journeys of Faith” podcast with MC Ernie Anastos, anchor/producer, Fox 5, NY and 2016 Life Achievement Award winner.

 

Service of Newspapers—When The Good Guys Win

Thursday, August 30th, 2018

Photo: philly.com

On one side of this post is a man who did extremely well, lived simply and used his fortune to help the newspaper industry, and many others. On the other is a private equity firm that pushed for a tariff against Canada to allegedly help some US businesses while threatening the survival of others. Amazingly, our system worked and the good guys won. Read on.

Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest. Photo: mercersburg.edu

“I can’t think of any cause that we support that’s more important than the support of the newspapers,” Mr. Lenfest said in 2014. That’s H.F. Lenfest, known as Gerry, who died early in August. James R. Hagerty wrote Lenfest’s obituary in The Wall Street Journal.

These weren’t just words for Lenfest and his wife Marguerite. They paid $88 million for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com four years ago and in 2016, “donated that company to a nonprofit, now known as the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, charged with preserving quality journalism in Philadelphia and testing ideas that might sustain fact-based news reporting elsewhere,” wrote Hagerty.

In all, the Lenfests have given away $1.2 billion. In spite of Lenfest’s financial success in the cable TV industry, the family lived modestly—keeping the house they moved into in 1966, for example. Their son Brook said his father “rode city buses and flew coach” because people in coach were “more open to conversation.” [The Lenfests gave $14 million to Teach America after Gerry Lenfest chatted with the founder he met on the train to NYC.]

Photo: ehshumfinancial.com

At the same time as this stalwart attempt at saving an industry takes place the Department of Commerce was supporting a tariff on Canadian newsprint that would raise the price as much as 30 percent ringing the death knell for many papers and causing severe cutbacks in staff and production in others. The tariff was to save jobs here. It appeared to back wealthy cronies at a private equity firm who pushed for the tariff because they own a US newsprint business. Some wondered if there wasn’t another agenda: to cut off yet more arteries of information that feed [legitimate] news to communities across the country.

A few days before the International Trade Commission’s decision–made yesterday–William Mauldin told the story in: “Bad News for U.S. Papers, but Tariffs Are Paying Off for One Rock Capital –Private-equity firm headed by a Washington and Wall Street veteran pushed for the tariffs on behalf of its North Pacific Paper and hope they are affirmed in a coming trade-commission vote.”

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

He reported that after salaries, newsprint is usually a newspaper’s second biggest cost. The increased cost “threatens the viability of small-town papers across the country, forcing reduced publication days, layoffs and other cut backs. Canadian mills have historically supplied a large portion of U.S. newsprint.”

He continued: “Some industry observers say a Trump administration, led by a president antagonistic to the media, is unlikely to be sympathetic to newspapers.” A White House spokeswoman said such a claim is “absurd.”

So what happened yesterday? Tom Kludt and Jill Disis at CNN.com wrote: “In what amounts to a blow to the Department of Commerce, which upheld the tariffs earlier this month, the International Trade Commission found that the imports of Canadian paper do not hurt American producers. The commission’s vote was unanimous.” Commissioner David S. Johnson, a Texas Republican, serves as chairman.

Do you predict the success of the Lenfest Institute’s research may save the newspaper industry? Are philanthropists like the Lenfests who gain little more than personal pleasure from their generous gifts, few and far between? Were you surprised by the International Trade Commission’s unanimous decision regarding what Thehill.com called the “Trump tariffs?” Did you also see the proposed tariffs as the administration’s attempt to punish and diminish the fourth estate? Dare we extrapolate this decision, with David and Goliath overtones, as a turning point where responsible commissioners based their decisions on facts and not due to pressure from a bully–with more to come?

Photo: thedailystar.net

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