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Good-hearted folks take heed


Professional panhandlers take advantage of public generosity

A story in Sunday's Mail Tribune regarding a panhandling Ashland family should serve as a cautionary tale to would-be good Samaritans: Make sure you know where your money is going before you part with it.

Sunday's article told the tale of Jason Pancoast and Elizabeth Johnson, who spend their working lives asking other people for money. Johnson usually brings her children along while she's making the rounds.

It also detailed the surprise of some people when told that the needy couple they're helping have a nice car, spend about &

36;1,000 a month on housing and eat at restaurants that some of their benefactors can't afford. And, oh yeah, they also collect &

36;500 a month in food stamps.

Pancoast and Johnson are professional beggars, and apparently good at it, making upwards of &

36;300 a day and, on one particularly productive day, &


Now, as the Ashland chief of police noted, there is nothing illegal about being a beggar. But there is something ethically challenged about standing on a street corner with your hand out, while your child sits nearby in a stroller like some marketing poster.

And there is something wrong with asking other people for money while you make no discernible effort to go out and earn your own paycheck. Both Pancoast and Johnson appear to be able-bodied people in their 30s.

— But there always have been and always will be individuals eager to separate good-hearted people from their money. So it's up to those good-hearted people to take heed and ensure that their donations go where they're needed most.

There are many ways to do that. Locally, the options include ACCESS Food Share, which operates food banks for the hungry, or United Way, which carefully scrutinizes funding requests to ensure social service programs get the biggest bang for the buck. There are dozens and dozens of agencies doing good work and struggling to help those who often can't help themselves.

Of course, you can give directly to individuals, but it's a crap shoot unless you truly know the situation. If you think the sign-carrying folks standing at busy intersections aren't spending the money on cigarettes and booze ' or something worse ' you're fooling yourself.

Now Pancoast and Johnson may be loving parents who are trying to get their lives together. But, at the risk of sounding like grouchy old fogies, we suggest that one of the first steps they could take toward that end is to get jobs.

And we suggest that charitable donors keep the &

36;5 bills in their wallets when they're sitting at the red light or approached on the sidewalk, and instead make a mental note to give it to a local social service agency that can be counted on to spend it wisely.

Clean it up, coach We know there is a lot of hypocrisy associated with big-time college sports. Having watched many of the recent football bowl games, we also know there are lots of obscenities.

What we can't figure out is why institutions of higher education allow their most prominent spokesmen ' in this case football coaches ' to spew invective at referees while in full view of millions of TV viewers. Not great P.R.

One coach who seemed to use the F-word frequently (it took only minimal lip-reading skills to translate), heads the football team of a large, well-known Catholic institution. There must have been at least a few nuns blushing.

If the coaches and colleges won't clean it up, the refs should take matters into their own hands. Many sports wouldn't tolerate it and there's no reason football should, either.