Christmas Wish Program is legitimate
About noon, Saturday, March 8, I saw number of people on Ward Avenue holding large yellow signs asking for donations to "help homeless keiki." I was curious to see who was involved since I work in an agency that helps the homeless. The first person I approached didn't know how the program worked, but said the money was to take Easter gift bags to homeless children on the Leeward Coast. They referred me to the head of the program, who said she represented the Christmas Wish Program Inc., based on the Big Island, but on Oahu to work with homeless children. She said there was no homeless staff on Oahu and that she didn't know any of the agencies working with the homeless on the Leeward Coast, nor could she answer my other questions. How do agencies get permission to solicit money on the street and who tracks or checks out these agencies? Is the Christmas Wish Program legitimate?
Answer: The Christmas Wish Program, based in Keaau, Big Island, since 2002, is a registered 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit organization.
You can look up all such tax-exempt organizations on the IRS Web site -- www.irs.gov -- and request a copy of their annual information reports.
While professional solicitors acting on behalf of a charity are required to register with the state Attorney General's Office and pay a $25,000 surety bond, local charities that solicit funds themselves do not have to register or provide annual financial information, said Hugh Jones, supervising deputy attorney general overseeing charitable solicitors and Hawaii charities.
However, Senate Bill 3171 would require local charities to register with the Attorney General's Office and provide annual operational and financial reports. At last check, it was still alive and making its way through the Legislature.
Christmas Wish Program also is registered with the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, but had not filed a report for 2007, so it is currently "not in good standing."
A department spokeswoman said nonprofit groups do not have to register with the department, but if they choose to do so, they must file an annual report.
"An entity is 'not in good standing' for business registration purposes if the entity has not filed its annual report, has not paid its filing fees or if it fails to have a registered agent," the spokeswoman said.
In an e-mail, Magin Patrick, executive director of the Christmas Wish Program, said her program is "run 100 percent by volunteers (and) solely supported by public donations."
She said she was not aware of the business registration, but would look into it.
You can also check with the Better Business Bureau of Hawaii and the state Office of Consumer Protection about specific charities. Both agencies said they had not received any complaints about the organization.
Meanwhile, Patrick recalled her conversation with you differently, saying you had approached different volunteers, indicating first that you were with the federal Housing and Urban Development Agency, then with Waianae Coast Outreach, then told her you were with a street outreach program.
She said she told you "we do our own thing and provide the services we see needed to the children on the coast. We don't get involved with the politics or the 'red' tape that most agencies do, and since we are not government or state-funded we don't have to have a thousand meetings and planning department staff to make a decision. We simply use the volunteers who want to make a difference and then we do the best we can with the support given."
Her daughter, Kassy Patrick, told us that "bunny bags" and lunches were provided to 87 homeless children on the Waianae Coast on Easter Sunday. Additionally, baby blankets, diapers and wipes, provided by Neiman Marcus, were handed out to about 20 babies, Kassy Patrick said.
You can find out more about the group at christmaswishprogram.org, although the Web site is outdated. Magin Patrick said a new Web designer had been found and would be updating the site.
In a 2006 IRS Form 990, the organization reported raising a total of about $89,730 in 2005, $74,560 in 2004 and $57,274 in 2003.
In its 2005 Form 990-EZ filing, covering the period from Oct. 1, 2005, to Sept. 30, 2006, Christmas Wish Program reported receiving $89,730 in contributions, gifts, grants, etc. and expending $64,221 in grants and benefits. None of it was spent on salaries or other benefits to members of the organization, according to the filing.
Among the expenditures that year: $14,671 for a Christmas party for homeless children on Oahu and the Big Island; $31,348 for an emergency care and outreach project (providing tents, blankets, care kits, hot meals and clothing to homeless families); $7,531 for an after-school reading and tutoring project; $5,900 for Easter events for homeless children on Oahu and the Big Island; $3,603 for a back-to-school giveaway, providing school supplies, new outfits and backpacks to 123 children; and $1,165 for a Halloween costume workshop, parade and contest for 86 children.
Elizabeth Watanabe, the owner of the O Lounge in Honolulu, attested Magin Patrick has "dedicated her life to helping homeless children."
Watanabe had twice hosted "huge" events for Patrick at the O Lounge, where more than 150 volunteers offered "complete meals to over 350 homeless people and each person left with more than one gift."
Watanabe said Patrick usually does a lot of fundraising around Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, and puts out a regular newsletter.
"It's probably as legitimate (an organization) as they come," she said.
STREET USAGE PERMITS
The city Department of Transportation Services issues "street usage permits" allowing groups to use the sidewalk area to solicit donations.
The same type of permit is issued for parades, construction work, etc.
It's required when any part of the city's public right of way is used or occupied, said Ty Fukumitsu, an official with DTS.
However, a permit is not required if the activity does not block the sidewalk -- essentially allowing access to passersby -- and if people "totally stay on the sidewalk and obey all traffic rules," he said.
Apparently, most groups that do street-side soliciting do not obtain permits.
Fukumitsu said the only one that consistently does so is the Hawaii Foodbank, "just to cover themselves." He suggests that's something other groups should do, as well.
Police should be called if access is blocked or if there are safety concerns, he said.
"We do not give permits for anyone to walk in the road," Fukumitsu emphasized. However, going into the roadway is not a violation, unless doing so creates a safety issue (see Kokua Line, March 28, 2006).
Got a question or complaint?
Call 529-4773, fax 529-4750, or write to Kokua Line, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu 96813. As many as possible will be answered. E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
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