David Bruce: Charity Anecdotes

When J. P. Morgan decided to attempt to buy the Carnegie Steel Company, he asked its President, Charles Schwab, to approach Andrew Carnegie, who owned most of the company’s stock. Mr. Schwab did so, and Mr. Carnegie asked for a night to think about whether he wanted to sell the company. The next day, Mr. Carnegie gave Mr. Schwab a piece of paper on which was written the amount of money he wanted for the company: $480 million. Mr. Schwab showed the paper to Mr. Morgan, who looked at it and said, “I accept this price.” Mr. Carnegie’s share of the selling price, by virtue of his stock ownership, was approximately $300 million, a huge amount now, and an even huger amount in 1901, when Mr. Carnegie sold his steel interests. For the rest of his life, Mr. Carnegie gave away much of his money to good causes. When he died, his estate was worth $23 million. Before dying in 1919, he had given away $324,657,399 — that much money is worth nearly $4.5 billion in year 2000 dollars.

Some rabbis were collecting money for their yeshiva. They planned to visit a man named Barbuhin to ask for a donation, but when they heard that he ate simple, inexpensive food, they decided that he would probably not give them much money, so they would visit his home last — if at all — to ask for a donation. However, when they visited him, he told them to tell his wife to give them a measure of gold coins. His wife did exactly that, giving them a heaping rather than a level measure. The rabbis were surprised at Barbuhin’s generosity, and they explained why they had felt that he would not give them much money. Barbuhin explained, “I have the right to be economical for my personal needs, but not when it comes to fulfilling my Creator’s commandments.”

When Danny Thomas was trying to become a successful comedian, he prayed to St. Jude for help, and he promised, “I will build you a shrine where the poor, helpless, and hopeless may come for comfort and aid.” He kept his promise by founding the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which opened in 1962. Located in Memphis, Tennessee, it serves children suffering from serious diseases such as Hodgkin disease, leukemia, sickle-cell disease, and many others. At St. Jude, no one pays for treatment. Insurance pays part of the cost, and whatever insurance does not cover is paid by the hospital and by an organization that Mr. Thomas founded to raise funds for the hospital: the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities.

When in Jerusalem Myriam Mendilow started Lifeline for the Old, a series of programs for the elderly to give them work and help them earn respect, she knew that she didn’t want it to be just a handout. Therefore, when she started a Meals on Wheels program, they charged the elderly a fee of about one-fourth of the actual cost of their meals. What did they do whenever someone couldn’t pay? Ms. Mendilow explained, “We write it down and say they owe it to us. Even if they never pay, we don’t want to give anybody the feeling that they are just being doled out charity.”

Francis Hodgson Burnett, author of “A Little Princess” and “The Secret Garden,” grew up poor, and after she became rich and famous, she used much of her money to help poor children. One organization she supported financially was the Drury Lane Boys’ Club, which gave boys a place to play off the street. When the Boys’ Club needed a larger meeting room, she found a house, part of which she rented and furnished for the use of the Boys’ Club. She also gave money to London’s St. Monica’s Home for Crippled Children and bought flowers and gifts for the children.

Many churches have trouble raising funds. Rev. Steve W. Caraway, who is the pastor of University United Methodist Church in Lake Charles, Louisiana, once reported to his congregation: “I have good news and bad news about our pledges. The good news is: we have reached our goal. The bad news is: you still have them in your pocket.”

“To me, Paul Newman does activism the right way. He makes delicious popcorn, salad dressing, and marinara sauce and then mentions in small print that the profits from this enterprise are going to charity. He sneaks it by you instead of ramming it down your throat, running his whole operation with a truly cool hand.” — Dennis Miller, “The Rants.”

In 1985, musicians Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, and Neil Young founded Farm Aid to raise funds for family farms as opposed to big, industrialized farms. The money they raise goes to farm organizations, service agencies, and churches. Mr. Nelson signs every check that Farm Aid sends out to one of these organizations.

A man once woke up J.P. Vaswani in the middle of the night and gave him a large sum of money for the needy. Mr. Vaswani asked the man why he had not waited until morning to give him the money. The man replied that he was worried that by morning he would have changed his mind about giving away such a large sum of money, even to help the needy.

As a Cardinal in Venice, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli (later to be Pope John XXIII) once was shocked that a priest had given only 100 lira (a very, very small amount of money) to a poor person. He said, “A gift must be of some use,” and advised that the priest should have given the poor person at least 1,000 lira.

The fourth pillar of Islam is to fast during the month of Ramadan annually. This focuses the mind of followers of Islam on Allah — and it encourages the giving of help to people who never have enough to eat in any month.

In 1948, Jean Carroll did a benefit for the United Jewish Appeal. Her greatest applause came when she said, “I’ve always been proud of the Jews, but never so proud as tonight because tonight I wish I had my old nose back.”

© 2015, David Bruce, All Rights Reserved

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