Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Charity of the Month - Modest was started by a professor at the college Mr. and Mrs. Roy attended. Here is an article that appeared in an Arizona newspaper a while back explaining what they do and how they do it. Just so you'll know, they do what they do better than just about anybody else!  You can click on the link to the right to help - PLEASE. 

In an economic downturn, more people may find themselves robbing Peter to pay Paul.

When people have neither a Peter nor a Paul in their life, they may turn to Modest Needs (, a Web-based charity dedicated to the financial needs of the working poor.

Six-year-old Modest Needs typically cuts checks for a few hundred dollars at a time to people facing unplanned expenses or as high as $1,000 for such one-time needs as getting the car fixed.

Site founder Keith Taylor said that though many people have enough money to cover basic needs, their savings can be meager. So when an emergency crops up - long-term illness, malfunctioning air-conditioner, a broken pipe - they can be thrown into a cycle of poverty.

"A single mother making $27,000 a year - which is nothing - who would not qualify for any state or federal help because she makes too much money is our ideal applicant," Taylor said.

Taylor said the idea stemmed from his college days and how family and friends helped him out financially when an unexpected expense cropped up. If he were wealthy one day, he recalled thinking, he would help those in similar need.

"Then it occurred to me that the people who helped me those two or three times I needed it weren't wealthy, they were just kind," he said.

People in difficult financial circumstances may post their hard-luck stories on Modest Needs, where visitors may choose to contribute (donations start at $1 and can range into the hundreds). When enough money is donated to meet an applicant's need, Modest Needs sends a check to the individual, organization or business that posted the plea.

Anna Schaefer, 54, sought the generosity of strangers in May when she found herself and her two sons, ages 19 and 14, facing eviction. Months before, she had moved to Phoenix from St. Paul, Minn., because doctors thought the warm, dry weather would help her recover from car-accident injuries. Just before the move, Schaefer was faced with a $1,000-plus car-repair bill.

"That set us back," Schaefer said. "Then we get down here and I thought I'd get a job real easy, and my 19-year-old, too. We haven't. We didn't know the economy was going to do what it did. I started to panic, and I couldn't pay the May rent."

She posted her story on Modest Needs and read other stories. There was a Colorado mother of two small children who had lost her job and was about to be evicted. "So I sent her $10," Schaefer said. "I thought, what am I doing? You need to put food on your own table, but I hoped to pay it forward and that it would come back to me."

Schaefer watched as the online contributions to her request grew. Within a week or two, strangers had donated more than $1,000, covering her late rent.

"I continue to give," she said, although she still doesn't have a job and lives on disability checks. "You have to when you read the stories."

Four years ago, the organization was receiving about 300 requests for aid a month. Now the organization receives about 250 requests a day. Taylor said the economic downturn has resulted in an increase in applications, but also donor support.

The organization gave out about $1.48 million last year, up from $370,000 in 2005. This year, Modest Needs expects to give away more than $2 million. About half of all applicant requests that meet the qualifying criteria are funded.

Income of applicants must be above the poverty line, making them unable to get other assistance. Applicants must prove their financial needs and situation by e-mailing such documents as pay stubs and bills.

First-time mom Christina Tonelli, 40, of Tucson, was overstressed and financially strapped with a sick newborn. Within 20 days of applying to cover a $574 hospital bill for her daughter, Sofia Tonelli-Pepe, Modest Needs sent a check to the hospital.

"It was such a quick turnaround," Tonelli said. "It's an amazing organization, and to think it's just a couple people here and there donating a few dollars."

Donors are able to read the applicants' stories and later can receive follow-up testimonials from the people they helped. Tonelli wrote to her donors: "You have made a big difference in our monthly budget and have lightened our load so we can concentrate more on getting our daughter healthy and strong."

Although many of the requests on Modest Needs are to cover bills and repairs, some are for acquisitions, such as a breathing apparatus or glasses - or in the case of 20-year-old Tucson resident Nicholas Jansen, a bicycle.

He doesn't have a driver's license, and even if he could afford a car, the part-time custodian at a non-profit agency said he couldn't afford the gas.

"I've been using public transportation, but the bus system is just not as reliable as I need it to be," Jansen said. "If I need to get somewhere at a certain time, the bus would make me late. With a bicycle, I could improve my on-time ability."

Jansen said he watched for a week, but no one chose to fulfill his request even though he submitted the documentation showing that his mother, his brother and he were disabled and living on a fixed income in the same house.

"Then one anonymous donor completely funded the entire application," Jansen said. "I nearly fell out of my chair. The bike is in great shape. And I got it from a place that will do free service on it for a lifetime. It's inexpressible how grateful I am. I would love to help someone else out this way someday."

Taylor said that's the idea.

"It's not about helping people with these short-term expenses," he said. "It's about inspiring people to be the philanthropists we all have it in us to be."

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