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Tony W. Cartledge | Blog

Entries in charity (2)


Tall boys and a tricky question

On Hallowe'en night I was buying gas near Aiken, South Carolina, and was deeply engrossed in washing my windshield when my peripheral vision caught a white mini-van coasting up to the adjoining pump. My attention was focused on a couple of stubborn bug streaks and I don't generally spy on fellow customers, so I gave it little notice. 

"Excuse me, sir," came a voice from behind. My hearing's not great, so he had to repeat it a couple of times to get my attention. A man was standing beside the van. He was small in stature, wearing worn jeans, a dark T-shirt, a blue-checked flannel shirt, and a nondescript ball cap with no logo. All were wrinkled and as scruffy in appearance as his beard.

But he was very polite. "Excuse me, sir. Could you spare a dollar or two? I'm trying to get home. I only have eight miles to go. My girlfriend just called and said supper is ready."

What could I do? If I could drop a twenty on Hallowe'en candy to leave on the porch for neighborhood goblins, I could buy this guy enough gas to reach his warm supper and waiting girlfriend.

I handed him a couple of dollars and he thanked me, then warned me to watch out for strange things, like a werewolf on a bicycle. "I saw one just down the road," he said. "Any other night and I would've shot him."

He loped off into the store then, presumably to pay cash in advance for his gas, though I noticed he hadn't stopped very near the pump. I finished cleaning the windshield and filling the tank, then walked inside to visit the bathroom.

I noticed that the guy had not returned to the van, and didn't see him when I walked into the store.

You can guess what happened next: as I emerged from the grungy men's room, he was standing at the counter with a fist full of ones and two Steel Reserve tall boys -- 24 ounce cans of cheap "high gravity lager" (8.1 percent alcohol) that the Urban Dictionary describes as "the best bang for your drinking dollar."

Can you guess that I was ticked? I don't know what Jesus would have done -- maybe turn the rotgut brew into a premium craft beer and have one with him, for all I know -- but Jesus and he would both have been walking.

And I don't know what I should have done, but what I did was walk straight to him and say "I thought you needed gas. I never intended to buy you beer. I'd like my two dollars back, please."

He picked out two folded bills and handed them over. "No problem, sir," he said.

I left with a divided mind. The man seemed to be beyond shame, but should I have caused potential embarrassment by confronting him in front of the cashier? Having been on the short end of a wreck with a drunk driver once before, and having considerable concern for whoever might end up in his path, I just couldn't contribute to his getting behind the wheel with two oversized brain hammers.

If only he'd wanted a couple of foot-long hot dogs instead . . .


"Angel Food" founders get wings clipped

The founders of "Angel Food," a Georgia-based "non-profit" that uses churches to sell discount groceries, are back at work following a court-brokered agreement, but without their company credit cards and exorbitant salaries.

Joe and Linda Wingo founded Angel Food in 1994 as a means for helping friends and neighbors who were struggling financially to find food, according to their Web site, which says they did so "with a heart to help others and a generous spirit."

The organization reportedly provides discount food to 500,000 people in 39 states. It does so through a network of some 5,000 churches whose volunteers take orders, collect money, and distribute the food to people who pay $30 for what is advertised to be $65 worth of food.

By taking advantage of all that free labor, along with wholesale buying, donations, and other means I can only guess at, the "non-profit" reaps large profits from the arrangement, and its founders have been flying high. In 2006, Joe and Linda Wingo, along with three other family members, took home about $2.5 million in salaries and took other questionable benefits, landing the organization on's list of ministries about which donors should be cautious.

A lawsuit filed by two troubled board members charged financial mismanagement and led to an ongoing FBI investigation, leading some churches to wonder if they want to stick with the program. Last week the lawsuit was settled, at least temporarily, though the plaintiffs retain a right to renew court action depending on what a financial audit turns up.

In the settlement, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, "the Wingos' company credit cards will be canceled, the nonprofit will undergo a forensic financial audit, and Joe Wingo will sign over to Angel Food a company he owns that was renting a corporate jet to the nonprofit at $10,000 a month profit."

You can read more of the disconcerting details at the links above. Meanwhile, Christianity has suffered one more example of ministry leaders who apparently start out with their hearts in the right place, but succumb to the lure of what the old King James Version of the Bible calls "filthy lucre."

Evidently, Angel Food could have been charging far less than $30 for those boxes of food: the "charity" brought in $137 million last year, according to the reports, far more than needed to cover expenses.

I wouldn't go to a church whose pastor lives like a king (or queen), and I don't support charities whose executives grow fat on donations intended for the people they serve.

The worst thing is that bad behavior on the part of one charity's leaders may cast a shadow over other nonprofits and provide a convenient excuse for people to stop supporting them. Charitable organizations do an amazing amount of good work in our world -- and there seems little question that even Angel Food has been a blessing to many.

Leaders of such organizations just need to keep their focus on those they are helping, instead of helping themselves.