Wednesday, September 14, 2011

GIVE AND TAKE: THE CHARITY GAME


September 14, 2011

Okay, so you dropped five bucks into the fireman’s boot and felt good about that. But now you’re heading home and there’s a different guy at the intersection and you find yourself making awkward explanatory hand movements while mouthing silently at him: “I already gave.”
And at the next red light there’s a another firefighter lying in wait. So this time you pretend to be looking on the floor for something. Like you never noticed him there, smiling that judgmental smile, the one you’re convinced says: “You can hide but you don’t fool me, Mr Scrooge.”
Can you afford another five?
It’s the guilt that comes with not giving. Americans are the most generous people on earth: we want to help, especially around the tenth – the idiots say “ten year” - anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
But the money our firemen solicit isn’t for 9/11. It pays for equipment needed to treat burn victims, both uniformed and civilian. Don Williams is the state co-ordinator for the Georgia Firefighters Burn Foundation. He said: “We’re most fortunate to have the largest burn unit in the world in Augusta and the fourth largest in Atlanta. This boot drive is a vital part of their funding and last year Walton County raised more than $31,000.”
When you collect cash there are opportunities for theft, of course, but Mr Williams has full confidence in the honesty of Georgia’s firefighters, and well he should, for they are beyond reproach.
And then there are those others.
A check last month on 325 of the 9/11 charities unearthed a plague of reptiles purloining copious amounts of cabbage for themselves by attaching their names to the tragedy. There are too many to list here, but we should know about John Michelotti’s Flag Of Honor/Flag Of Heroes flimflam - making a fortune selling tacky Chinese-made flags for $25 without giving charity one dime. Theodore Sjurseth‘s annual 9/11 Motorcycle Ride splurges more than 80 percent of his collected $2.2 million on hotels, meals and other jollies for his Harley hog pals. And there’s the $4 million raked in via Christian TV by Urban Life Ministries, Rev Carl Keyes, presiding, of which only $670,000 is accounted for.
Another is All My Children actor Jack Scalia, whose Lest We Forget outfit netted him $100,000 which he then “lost”. They all invoke 9/11. But charity fraud is legend, and here these shameful chiselers seem almost saintly against the big boys who pay themselves elephantine salaries or simply run off with the swag.
Charity begins at home – the homes of the top executives and families. To deflect suspicion, the trick, as practiced by Christian Relief Services’ Paul Krizek, is to have family members on his half million dollar payroll. He forgot to include the dog.
Top honchos like Brian Gallagher of United Way and Roxanne Spillett, who heads Boys And Girls Clubs Of America, pocket more than a million a year. Her organization is under intense Senate scrutiny for excessive expenditures on travel and other perks while citing poverty as a reason for closing local clubs.
Children are the lure, and probably the most effective charities are those that invite sponsorship. Sally Struthers springs to mind with her Christian Children’s Fund, now known as ChildFund International. Why no longer Christian – have they abandoned their faith?
There’s Compassion.com, slogan: “We’re here to serve you.” Me? I thought you were serving the children. Yes, we’re compassionate, but let’s not be suckers. Not even when these corporations parade some saucer-eyed, malnourished, brownish urchin onto our TV screen with the appeal: “Just look into this child’s eyes.” I’d rather look into that charity’s bookkeeping: commercials are expensive.
This kid will write you. Really? Kids Alive International ministry saying you can have “regular e-mail correspondence with your child”. Har har. Nice try. So this emaciated orphan may be dying of hunger but he’s got a laptop?. Maybe his enfeebled condition is the reason he’ll be “unable to respond directly to your e-mails.” Or is it because the company creep at the printing press can’t churn out the heart-wrenching replies fast enough.
So the money that came from your heart bankrolls well-paid jobs and junkets with the remainder squandered on administration. Here I include private jets and “essential” field trips to golf courses situated in the vague direction of the waiting, the needy, the desperate. The dying.
Feed The Children? Who wouldn’t want to? But the charity of that name is under investigation, as is Angel Food right here in Monroe where three of the controlling Wingo family members net over a million in salaries and have borrowed a further million from their ministry.
Which are the scams? The near-scams? Those of us who seek to help the less fortunate have an Achilles’ Heel because there’s a bunch of soulless heels out there looking to profit from our goodwill.
Years ago a fellow with a big smile and a fireman’s badge came to my house collecting donations. Suspicious, because he offered a free family portrait in exchange. He turned out to be a guy working for Excalibur Photography in Atlanta: they’d done a deal with my rural fire department whereby only a fraction went to the cause for which it was intended.
Sadly, that’s the story of charity today.

ENDIT

© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.