Concerns raised on road solicitors


July 02, 2002|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

THIS TIME I'm directing my fire at the traffic-hopping fund-raisers for almost everything you can name," said Don Oliver, who lives in Columbia.

"I first encountered it on U.S. 29 at Route 198 where local firefighters were collecting for Jerry's Kids before the Labor Day weekend a few years ago. Since then, there has been a proliferation of traffic hoppers snarling up intersections and collecting money for almost everything you might imagine.

"One group commonly on the median is collecting for `The Family,' whatever that is. Another group at the same intersection claims to be collecting for women and children. Yet another group has started collecting intermittently at U.S. 29 and Briggs Chaney Road wearing nurses uniforms.

"Lately the intersection of Snowden River Parkway and Broken Land Parkway has seen collections. I've also seen collectors in the roadways on Route 40 at St. John's Lane. Seems dangerous to me."

I agree, Mr. Oliver. There are laws about jaywalking and pedestrian safety at intersections, but this practice, which is condoned although not encouraged by Howard County, has well-meaning volunteers walking between cars at busy intersections, sometimes while traffic is in motion, placing themselves and vehicle occupants in jeopardy.

On several occasions, I have seen volunteers walking along the edges of a middle lane while traffic is streaming past because the light has just turned green. If I see a collector trying to get to the side of the road I usually let them go, but I, for one, refuse to hold up traffic so one of these volunteers can collect one last penny-ante contribution. I think it's irresponsible for charities to solicit contributions at intersections. When I'm approached at intersections, I keep my window rolled up.

Is it legal? Oliver wonders.

In some Maryland counties, it is. In Howard County, intersection solicitations are legal if the organization is registered with the Howard County Office of Consumer Affairs. To register, a group fills out a form and provides a copy of the organization's 501(3c) certification, but it does not need to pay a fee to register. The registration does not cover a specific time period or even an intersection, just the intent to collect in Howard County in the next year.

Complaints about unsafe activity in intersections should be directed to the police, but the Police Department's public information office said that generally officers do not do anything about it unless they witness the dangerous behavior, and then might speak with offenders and warn them but allow the solicitation to continue.

No one knows of any complaints that have been filed with the police or the Office of Consumer Affairs about intersection solicitations.

I did learn, however, that Prince George's County decided about a year ago to ban such activity and considers it to be unsafe. It would be nice if Howard also came to that conclusion.

Faced with rising costs, the loss of government funding and an increasing demand for their services, charities are responding by asking for larger contributions from more donors - and seeking new and creative ways to reach potential donors. The Council of Better Business Bureaus offers these tips on charitable giving:

Do not give cash; always make contributions by check and make your check payable to the charity, not to the individual collecting the donation.

Don't be fooled by names that look impressive or that closely resemble the name of a well-known organization.

Ask what your contribution will be used for. Watch out for statements such as "all proceeds will go to the charity." This can mean that the money left after expenses, such as the cost of written materials and fund-raising efforts, will go to the charity.

The council also recommends asking for the charity's full name and address, demanding identification from the solicitor, asking whether your contribution is tax deductible, asking for a receipt and checking to ensure the charity is licensed by state and local authorities.

That's hard to do in the few moments available during a red light.

Finally, the council says, "Don't succumb to pressure to give money on the spot."

Train on Fourth of July

On Thursday, the Maryland Rail Commuter service will operate a holiday train on the Penn Line from Baltimore to Washington.

The train will honor regular one-way and two-trip tickets as well as senior/disability one-way tickets only. Monthly and weekly tickets are not good for travel on this train.

Each fare-paying passenger is entitled to bring one child up to age 15 for free. The regular two-trip fare from Penn Station in Baltimore to Union Station in Washington is $10.25 or $6 for senior citizens or for people with disabilities. Other fares vary depending on departure station.

The MARC train will leave Penn Station at 4:30 p.m. and arrive at Union Station at 5:25 p.m. Departure times for other Penn Line stations are as follows: BWI, 4:46 p.m.; Odenton, 4:53 p.m.; and New Carrollton, 5:10 p.m.

For the return trip, the train is scheduled to leave Union Station at 10:30 p.m.

Information: 800-325-RAIL.

Can't think of a better way to get down there, folks.

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at Technophobes can mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 5570 Sterrett Place, Suite 300, Columbia 21044, or fax 410-715-2816.

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