Friday, November 11, 2011

Ever Get a "Fund Lowering Letter"?

Well, HAVE you?  I have, twice, from the same folks - the Bijou Community.  The first such letter arrived in 1981.  The Bijou Community folks, Steve Handen, Mary Lynn Sheetz, Peter Parker, Bill Sultzman, Peter and Mary Sprunger-Froese, Esther Kinsimore, Donna Johnson and others were realizing their dream of opening a "house of hospitality", patterned after the Catholic Worker houses that Dorothy Day and others set up in the poorer parts of large American cities.  Steve and this small group had been running the local Soup Kitchen for almost ten years by this time and were well known as being real "helpful" to those in need.  They also, by then, had gained a reputation for doing very well with what ever was given to them as "charity".  They had not set up as a "501-C3" agency so there was no tax deduction for giving them money, food or a car.  They found a house, very appropriate in size and location, at 411 W. Bijou.  They "did the deal" and needed to come up with a down payment for the house.  The Ithaka Land Trust was created to actually hold title to the House, in perpetuity for the use of the community.  For the first time ever, the Bijou Community sent out a fund raising letter to those they knew or those they thought might be of help.  To their humble surprise, within a VERY short time, they not only received the funds needed to pay the down payment, they received enough to RETIRE THE ENTIRE MORTGAGE!  Hence the "fund lowering letter"..... I, and the rest of their supportive community, received a one page letter; thanking us for the support for the Bijou House and suggesting that now, "You could direct your generosity to the many other worthy agencies in town that help those in need".  Ever get something like THAT from any "charity" in town?

About 5 years later, in 1985, the Bijou folks needed to relocate the Soup Kitchen from First Baptist Church to St Mary's Marian House facility.  The Marian House, across Bijou from St Mary's Cathedral, housed a part-time senior's program, had been used as a temporary emergency shelter for a couple of Winters when the old County Poor Farm was full and not much else.  The Bijou folks figured they needed about $50,000 to upgrade the house kitchen and fit the place out as a soup kitchen.  So, the second "asking letter" went out from the Bijou Community.  Almost immediately, they had the money needed and sent out their SECOND "fund lowering letter".  Before they could "shut off the flow", they had acquired enough "extra funds" that were put to the community's use by purchasing the vacant lot next to the Bijou House.  They wanted to own this lot for a few reasons.  They preferred that that land NOT become a 7-11 type of commercial enterprise, right next to the Bijou House.  They thought the land might be needed at some future time to expand the Bijou House's mission into.  In the meantime, they cleared out the vacant lot and put in a very nice "vest-pocket" park, with plantings, benches and a basket-ball court.

The Bijou Community folks eventually stopped running a House of Hospitality.  The group is getting older, there just weren't enough people or energy to keep going the intensive supervision, that the Bijou House required.  The House remains in that hands of Ithaka and is now used as far-less supervised housing for poor and disabled people.  I helped out there for at least ten years as a "relief over-night supervisor".  I was also sort of the "house nurse" there and would come over in answer to calls like "Does he need to go the E.R."  It was a wonderful effort to be part of.  The Soup Kitchen is now in the ownership of Catholic Charities, having been given over in 1995 for pretty much the same reasons as the Bijou House - they were just too tired to keep up the day-to-day heavy lifting that running the Soup Kitchen entailed.  I helped out there too, sharing the Sunday brunch meal supervision duties, every Sunday with Bill Sultzman.  I also supervised the Clinic attached to the Soup Kitchen.  Started soon after the move there, in 1986, I and a small group of volunteers staffed it Monday through Friday, even on the holidays.  It is now operated by the SET agency.

It WAS nice to receive those "fund-lowering letters" however. Wonder if I'll ever see another one....

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