Family-run charity's fight for survival illustrates hardships of philanthropy Money shortage threatens program

August 30, 1993|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Staff Writer

Who will notice if Simple Sacrifice for the Homeless simply gives up?

In a state with thousands of nonprofit groups and charities, this family run feeding program for Baltimore's homeless is a tiny fledgling, so small that the Maryland secretary of state's office does not even require it to register as a fund-raising organization. It has no staff, and the board of directors includes a 15-year-old, the daughter of its founding family.

Of course, the 350 to 500 homeless people who wait each Sunday in a downtown park are acutely aware when the Franquelli family of Severn, the force behind Simple Sacrifice, fails to show up. That happened twice last month, when the charity didn't have enough money in the bank to make the bag lunches it distributes.

"We used to have enough to cover every week, with some in reserve," recalls Anthony Franquelli. "All of that's gone. We can't make a mistake. If we make a mistake, it's our money."

And money is not plentiful in the Franquelli household. Mr. Franquelli earns about $36,000 a year as the supervisor of the print shop at the University of Maryland. His wife, Angela, has health problems -- brain surgery last week, and a terminal disease that causes her immune system to attack her liver. Still, the family's primary concern is continuing the charity it founded in April 1991.

Simple Sacrifice's recent financial problems raise several questions: Can shoestring charities, dependent on the energy and commitment of a small group of people, survive at a time when large nonprofit groups have money woes? Is philanthropy a luxury only the rich can afford? Must small charities grow or die? And do they even serve a need?

The last question is the easiest for Daphne Herling, who, as director of community organizing for the Maryland Food Committee, has nurtured and encouraged small charities such as Simple Sacrifice, once providing it with a grant.

"We very much feel that people who are feeding people today, without them, we couldn't do our work," Ms. Herling said. "We would have to be doing that, instead of working on long-term solutions."

Sundays, when the Franquellis serve, are especially lean days for the city's homeless, with only a few soup kitchens open. Mrs. Franquelli offers empirical evidence that their sandwiches are needed.

"Some of the men just cram them in their mouths, and it's pretty dry, since we don't have sodas or anything now," she said. "They must be hungry."

Growth of programs

Over the past decade, short-term solutions to hunger -- soup kitchens, sandwich programs such as Simple Sacrifice, pantries that distribute canned and dry goods -- have returned from near-extinction, growing along with the nation's homeless population. In 1980, there were about 50 such programs in Maryland. Today, there are more than 600.

Most have a religious affiliation, and, with it, some measure of financial security. A family affair such as the Franquellis' is rare, and usually must become institutionalized to survive.

Baltimore's Bea Gaddy, for example, went the high-profile route. Her shelter and soup kitchen uses her name, so each public appearance -- and there are many -- impresses that name on the public.

Her annual Thanksgiving dinner, which served an estimated 18,000 last year, was nominated for the Guinness Book of World Records and featured on network television.

Randy Milligan, then with the Baltimore Orioles, once donated 100 pair of new athletic shoes to Ms. Gaddy's charity. In April, a Sparrows Point couple gave her $5,000 after winning the state's Lotto game. Ms. Gaddy has been so successful that her name is invoked in bogus fund-raising, and other charities grumble that she gets too much attention.

The Franquellis don't even care to compete.

"I'm not really interested in being a big, big organization," Mrs. Franquelli said. "I wouldn't want to be like Bea Gaddy. She got so big. You lose something."

But the Franquellis, too, have benefited from publicity. A November 1991 article in The Sun was followed by $11,000 in donations, which kept them going for a year. Ironically, a subsequent article in the National Enquirer, one of the nation's largest weekly publications, netted just two contributions.

How it all began

Simple Sacrifice started small, as a family project: Let's make some sandwiches and give them to the poor, suggested the family's youngest, Anthony, 10 at the time.

They began with 10 sandwiches. The number quickly grew, swelling to more than 300 in just a matter of weeks. The Franquellis set up an assembly line in their garage and picked a permanent distribution site, at East Baltimore Street and Guilford Avenue, near City Hall.

It is important to them, Mr. and Mrs. Franquelli said, to be there each week, to see the people they serve. They never want to lose that.

"I thought of hiring someone," Mrs. Franquelli said, when reminded that many charities spend up to one-third of their funds on administration. "I guess, as a last resort, we could do that."

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