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Anonymous Giving: Acts of Charity That Have No Name

December 25, 1985|URSULA VILS | Times Staff Writer

It is part of a religious tradition from Matthew to Maimonides: Give to those in need.

Further, Jesus' Apostle Matthew in the Bible and Maimonides, a 12th-Century Jewish rabbi and philosopher, exhort both Christians and Jews to maintain the dignity of the poor, especially by remaining anonymous.

When thou doest alms, writes Matthew (6:3), let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.

They come from all walks of life, from varying economic brackets and social settings. They believe in giving, in helping their fellow humanity. Their donations may be several million dollars for medical research--or a sack of groceries delivered to a church pantry for the poor.

In addition to a belief in doing charity, they have another thing in common: They wish to remain anonymous.

Granted that large donors often wind up with their names on a university edifice or a research lab--but not always and frequently against their wishes. In addition to such expansive philanthropy by, on the large part, only a few people, thousands of others contribute anonymously to a myriad of organized and personal charities, if in lesser amounts.

'Fascinating' Anonymous Donors

Jill Halverson, director of the Downtown Women's Center, relies on support from a spectrum of donors, including anonymous ones that she describes as "fascinating."

"There is one who sends a money order every other month," Halverson said. "There is a Bible quotation on it, just the chapter and verse, instead of a name, and that's all, something about feeding the hungry. I know the motivation but not the name.

"There is an older man named Sid--that's all I know. He comes in once a month with $100 in cash. He stays 10 or 15 minutes and visits. No last name, and he will not talk about himself at all. I'd guess he is in his 70s, simply dressed, but neatly. He'll just appear, then be gone. He does not live on Skid Row; he comes by bus. He comes out of nowhere and goes back to nowhere.

"I think he gives money other places, too. He'll talk about the beauty of the universe, but no thank-yous. I would try to thank him and he would say, 'I'm trying to say "Thank you" to you.' "

Another donor, an 89-year-old woman, is known to Halverson but not to the woman's beneficiaries.

Her Own Reasons

"She was impressed by young people who do volunteer work at the Downtown Women's Center, that there are young who would want to be with old and depressed people," Halverson said. "She has provided support to two young men who volunteer at the center. She just says, 'I have my own reasons for wanting to be anonymous.' "

At the First Presbyterian Church of Santa Monica, Warren Bowman, a deacon who volunteers as a receptionist to help distribute aid to the needy, said that much of its contributions are anonymous in the sense that church members contribute sacks of groceries and "experienced clothing"--a far nicer term than "used."

Father James Mott OSA, pastor of Our Mother of Good Counsel Church in the Los Feliz area, cited a woman who has insisted on anonymity in donating a television set, refrigerator and money to a poor family.

"We also have a family that adopts a poor family at Christmas," Mott said. "The donors find out how old the children are and their clothing sizes, then give gifts, clothes and the Christmas dinner. They do it as charity and also as a way of teaching their children."

The Rev. Richard C. Hall, director of the Episcopal-sponsored St. Barnabas Senior Center in the MacArthur Park area, twice a year receives checks in the amount of $10,000 from an unknown source.

"The checks come from an unknown entity," Hall said. "I don't know if it is an individual or a corporation. The donation is administered by a bank as trustee, and the only way of thanking the donor is by writing a letter to the bank.

"In other instances I know who the giver is but I am requested not to acknowledge the donation.

"I guess the motivation is simply that it is more blessed to give than to receive."

For the Salvation Army, anonymous giving is often similar, if on a larger scope, especially through its Christmastime Adopt a Family program.

The program is confidential and involves companies, families and individuals who provide a Christmas for families that remain anonymous, with the Salvation Army coordinating needs and acting as intermediary to forestall identification of either giver or receiver.

"They (donors) shop for toys for the children, gifts, food, a Christmas tree and decorations," said Bettie Blake, social services supervisor and Christmas coordinator for 15 years.

"Contributors call in, and I give them minimal information about the family, such as how many children there are, their ages, their first names only. We coordinate the donations and I call in the recipient family. The parents or parent come in without the children so that the children will think the gifts are from them."

Average Family

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