Archive for the ‘Charity’ Category

Service of Taking Candy From a Baby

Monday, July 18th, 2022

There have always been those who look for the main chance. They’ll defraud if they must.

When I read “The Ethicist” column “What Can You Do When Cheaters Take Advantage of Charity?” in The New York Times, I immediately thought of my mother’s experience as a volunteer tax preparer for the AARP. The organization offered free tax prep and trained her to complete simple tax forms. She was assigned to a church on the upper east side of Manhattan. On occasion she had to direct wealthy co-op owners with complex investments to professionals telling them she wasn’t trained to help them. That was a polite way to say “toodaloo.” The word “free” attracted them.

The Avon, Conn. reader/volunteer at a food redistribution charity described his dilemma to Times columnist Kwame Anthony Appiah. A few times a week he picks up bakery goods and delivers them to local food banks, soup kitchens and the like. According to news sources such as CNN, “Long lines are back at food banks around the U.S. as working Americans overwhelmed by inflation turn to handouts to help feed their families.”

The reader wrote: “Some charitable organizations require no screening of clients. Anyone is free to pick up food at these locations. I have observed that some individuals visit several locations on the same day, collecting a greater quantity of food than any family could reasonably use in a week. In addition, judging by some of the client vehicles, it is likely that there are not an insignificant number of individuals who are taking food who do not truly need it. Not all of those people can be collecting food on someone else’s behalf.”

He continued: “Free food for the well-off does not meet the I.R.S. definition of a charity. What is the ethical responsibility of the charitable organizations who are distributing these donations to ensure that those who truly need the food are the ones that receive it?”

Appiah responded: “It’s unfortunate when cheaters take advantage of charity. But it’s unfortunate, too, when efforts to deter them create barriers to those in need. The rigorous way to avoid abuse would be to require people to go through the humiliating (and time-consuming) process of proving their need. That could involve a photo ID, a Social Security number and documented evidence of eligibility for federal or state food-assistance programs. (It wouldn’t involve an assessment of their vehicles; the Kelley Blue Book can’t tell you whether that woman with the nice Camry has hit a rough patch.)”

I agree with Appiah. Let the crooks abuse the system so as to leave the hungry with their dignity. Before the pandemic companies introducing a new juice, tea, snack or yogurt would hand out free samples on the street. I often took one to taste test. But the charity scammers getting free food are a different story. Who can exploit the largess of others depriving disadvantaged citizens of necessities when they can well pay for their own?

Are there dignified ways to vet food bank customers to weed out cheaters or should there be a policy of no questions asked? Do you know people who take advantage of programs meant for others?

People who can well afford to pay for their food in a supermarket like this take from food banks. Shameful.

Service of Slipping Through Cracks the Size of the Grand Canyon: I.R.S. Asleep at the Switch

Tuesday, July 5th, 2022


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I overdo it by flagging receipts that indicate charitable donations or medical bills throughout the year to help with tax prep and in the event I get a dreaded I.R.S. notification that I’m being audited. It has happened to several friends of modest means and standard sources of income. The I.R.S., which claims it doesn’t have the staff to catch scofflaws, seems to waste time on microscopic fries while letting master cheaters they have been alerted to fly free.

David A. Fahrenthold, Troy Closson and Julie Tate reported on a flagrant example in their article “76 Fake Charities Shared a Mailbox. The I.R.S. Approved Them All.

The American Cancer Society alerted the IRS to one fake–American Cancer Society of Michigan headquartered in a Staten Island PO Box–run by Ian Hosang, previously convicted for stock market fraud and barred from the industry in 1997. Hosang next launched another scam–the United Way of Ohio at the same “headquarters.” The reporters wrote that the “long-running charity fraud that has astounded nonprofit regulators and watchdogs — [and] raised concerns about the I.R.S.’s ability to serve as gatekeeper for the American charity system.” Hosang had also warmed his heels in jail for two years for fraud and money laundering.

According to the reporters, the I.R.S. approved all but one in 2,400 applications from potential charities. “The agency declined to answer questions about Mr. Hosang’s case, citing taxpayer privacy laws. It also declined to make officials available for in-person interviews, but it released a written statement saying that the fast-track approval system ‘continues to reduce taxpayer burden and increase cost effectiveness of I.R.S. operations.'”


Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

Hosang, who said he was filled with remorse, asked the reporters “’If you file something with an agency and they approve it, do you think it’s illegal?”

In addition to the faux American Cancer Society of Michigan, he created them for Detroit, Green Bay, Cleveland and for Children to name a few–17 in this disease group alone. The real American Cancer Society launched local and national initiatives with a lawyer to alert the I.R.S. “American Cancer Society officials said they never heard back from the I.R.S.”

“The first problem,” wrote the reporters, “according to former I.R.S. officials: Tax law does not prohibit nonprofits from impersonating better-known nonprofits by using sound-alike names. The second: There are no systematic checks for a history of fraud.” They quote a former employee who admitted you could apply for tax-free status from jail.

They reported: “One 2019 study by the agency’s taxpayer advocate found that 46 percent of the applicants it approved were not actually qualified, usually because their charters did not conform to charity law. It also noted that the ‘mission statements’ were often so vague as to be useless. In 2021, federal records show, the I.R.S. approved groups whose mission statements were, in their entirety, ‘CHARITABLE ACTIVITY,’ ‘NON-PROFIT’ and ‘Need to fill in’ (possibly a forgotten note to self).”

There’s more but you get the gist.

Shouldn’t a simple search of prison records be part of a fast-track I.R.S. charity approval system? Given the lax approach to this aspect of the I.R.S.’s responsibility, do you think Joe and Jane Citizen are also pretty safe from scrutiny?

Service of Some Still Don’t Believe Americans Go Hungry

Monday, May 9th, 2022

Miche at Bien Cuit bakery, $15.00

I was at a gathering, tables groaning with delicious goodies, at which I heard: “I don’t believe there is hunger in this country.” The speaker refused to be convinced otherwise.

The comment nagged at me so I looked online for recent articles about hunger in America, [not that this person would have read any of them], and found none on Google since 2020. At that time there were plenty of reports of how the pandemic had made a terrible situation–that had been getting better–worse for many, especially children.

The nokidhungry.org website reports today that “according to the latest estimates, as many as 13 million children in the United States live in ‘food insecure’ homes. That phrase may sound mild, but it means that those households don’t have enough food for every family member to lead a healthy life.

$2.99 at Trader Joe’s

“The number of children living with hunger had fallen steadily over the past decade, but the coronavirus pandemic dealt a terrible blow to our progress as a nation – one that No Kid Hungry and other organizations will work to reverse during the long recovery ahead.”

So I changed my question to Google and wrote: “How has inflation impacted food banks?” I found a January 31, 2022 story on cbnews.com by Kate Gibson: “Inflation has more Americans counting on food banks to eat.”  It described the financial pressure that food banks are experiencing which, of course, impact those who depend on them.

I can’t believe I paid $1.99 for a grapefruit or $1.19 for a navel orange at Trader Joe’s. There are plenty of staples I buy there that haven’t increased in price such as a pound of penne rigate from Italy $.99; a pound of sweet Campari tomatoes, $2.99, [as much as $6 at other stores], or 16 ounces of plain Greek yogurt for $3.29. The last time I bought a butter substitute, Brummel & Brown, at a standard Manhattan grocery store, it cost $4-something. Last week I handed the cashier $5.00 and quickly realized that wasn’t enough: I paid $6+.  For the average family of four, that doesn’t have money left for food after paying rent and electricity, many of these items I buy regularly are luxuries.

Speaking of luxuries, I saw a stunning looking country bread at Bien Cuit in Grand Central Station for $15. I bet it’s tasty.

Do you know anyone who believes that there are no hungry people living in America? Are there many who think this? Can you share links to recent articles on hunger in America that I’ve missed? Are your grocery bills inching upwards or have you negotiated around the increases?

Trader Joe’s price: $.99.

Service of Ask for an Inch and Take a Mile

Monday, October 4th, 2021

The idea for this post came to me as I waited for a delivery person with a dolly negotiate, and clear, a standard sidewalk transformed into narrow alley, before I could enter. I had to squeeze by other pedestrians–too close for my comfort pandemic or no–numerous times and noticed similar infringements in most neighborhoods.

Each instance in the photos here is an example of a business that has taken advantage of the pandemic to enlarge its footprint by encroaching on walkways big-time. New Yorkers walk. The negative impact of such obstructions will amplify as the city refills with workers, tourists and residents.

Taking such advantage reminded me of some charities. I donate modest amounts to a few throughout the year. In less than a month after receiving my check some bombard me with additional requests. My appeal to them: Wait six months at least, please! What are computers for if not to make possible spaced-out reminders by the fulfillment company that distributes the mailings?

If the strategy didn’t work, the charities wouldn’t do it. I’ve written before about a person close to me who had been generous when well. One year he responded to each of many mailed requests. The accountant caught what happened. Shame on those organizations. Soon after the accountant’s discovery the munificent donor was diagnosed with dementia.

Businesses and charities aren’t alone in milking hands that feed them and don’t know when to stop. Have you noticed similar instances?

Service of Sharing II

Monday, August 9th, 2021

Sharing makes me feel good to both do and observe.

When men’s Olympic high jumpers Gianmarco Tamberi from Italy and Mutaz Essa Barshim from Qatar agreed to share the gold medal they were elated–Tamberi jumped into Barshim’s arms and they hugged. Did you hear me cheering?

If you live alone, the closest thing to sharing at the most basic level is to give surprises.

It’s hard for some to share–the last cookie, piece of cake, slice of pizza–but Americans were generous with their treasure last year.

AP business writer Haleluya Hadero wrote “Galvanized by the racial justice protests and the coronavirus pandemic, charitable giving in the United States reached a record $471 billion in 2020, according to a report released Tuesday that offers a comprehensive look at American philanthropy.” She added that Giving USA reported: “Faced with greater needs, estates and foundations also opened up their pocketbooks at increased levels — resulting in a 5.1% spike in total giving from the $448 billion recorded for 2019, or a 3.8% jump when adjusted for inflation.”

Have you observed some splendid examples of sharing?

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

Thursday, March 25th, 2021

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….

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.”

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?

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

Thursday, February 11th, 2021

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:

  • 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?

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

Thursday, December 17th, 2020

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.]

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.

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

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.

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.

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?

Service of What You Think of When You Walk Alone

Monday, September 21st, 2020

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?

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?

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