Charitable watchdog: Check out unfamiliar nonprofits

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

Nov. 23, 2012 at 5:23 a.m.
Updated Nov. 24, 2012 at 5:24 a.m.

Gayla Goff says she has to "run the gauntlet" to step inside her local Wal-Mart.

Whenever the longtime Victoria resident visits the Navarro Street store, someone is usually standing outside, their hands out.

On Oct. 26, it happened again, this time, with Corpus Christi-based Kids Battle Cancer Foundation.

Its paid solicitors, carrying several photocopied brochures plastered with pictures of the ill children, couldn't say how much of her donation would go toward aiding families with mounting medical bills.

Goff thought they were trying to dupe her.

"They looked like the kind of people you wouldn't open your front door for," Goff said. "Everyone is having tough economic times, and I think it takes a lot of gall to stand out there and scam people."

Alan Bligh, the Better Business Bureau regional director in Corpus Christi, said one should always cautiously open their checkbook, especially around Christmas, a time when many charities try to pluck at heartstrings.

"We're in a giving mode, and the bad guys are going to take advantage of it," he said.

Bligh said every year scammers get more inventive, and often times well-meaning organizations get mistaken for them simply because they're new.

That appears to be the case for 2-year-old Kids Battle Cancer Foundation, which, until recent legal trademark troubles, went by Kids Versus Cancer Foundation.

Steven and Gabby Gruber took over its operation after its founder, Steven's brother, Andrew Gruber, decided to quit.

This came after a Kansas newspaper, the Lawrence Journal World, reported Andrew Gruber's unrelated Purple Hearts Veterans Foundation gave just 11 cents of every dollar raised toward those serving in the military, which is not in line with the 65 percent the BBB recommends.

Kids Battle Cancer Foundation has since tried to distance themselves from Andrew Gruber's woes and learn from his mistakes, which also included receiving a trademark cease and desist letter, Steven Gruber said.

They registered Oct. 1 as a nonprofit corporation with the Texas Secretary of State's office, and they're re-applying for a 501(c)(3) tax exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service, which will likely cost thousands of dollars to obtain.

He said at least 60 percent of their donations were going toward their cause until a transmission in the organization's van broke, and they also had to reprint brochures with the correct name. They won't know how well they fared until January.

The attorney general's office also hasn't received any complaints about them, spokesman Thomas Kelley said.

"It just sucks when you're trying to get on your feet ... We're trying to make a difference in people's lives," Steven Gruber said regarding the about 40 families they've helped in the past year.

Sarah Sosa made that list. The Karnes County grandmother had to quit her job because of her irregular schedule. She cares for her grandson, Hasten Garza, who was diagnosed with cancer when he was 1 year old.

"If he runs a fever, if he gets sick at 3 or 4 in the morning, we've got to take off," she said of the physically and financially exhausting hour and a half drive to Santa Rosa Children's Hospital.

Like Goff, she saw Kids Battle Cancer Foundation at Wal-Mart. They've since given her a $200 check for gas and groceries.

"I called them, and they helped right away after I gave them some information," Sosa said. "It was so helpful."

Corpus Christi's Channel 6 News also reported in February 2011 that the Kids Battle Cancer Foundation donated a car to the family of a 3-year-old who until then had to walk to his chemotherapy treatments.

To those still concerned about a possible affiliation with the now defunct Purple Hearts Veterans Foundation, Steven Gruber said they're not forcing anyone to give.

"We can't afford commercials and billboards, so this is really our front line. I don't want (our solicitors) to be like (other groups) and sit there and harass people. I tell them to say, 'Thank you and have a great day,' because eventually people are going to hear good things," he said.

Bligh said the BBB will send the Kids Battle Cancer Foundation a questionnaire so it can be ranked and reviewed on its website, which is not required. In the meantime, he warned consumers about charities with similar sounding names, writing checks to individuals rather than organizations and inviting strangers inside their home.

"You should never be pressured," Bligh said. "A legitimate charity will be just as happy with your donation tomorrow as they would if you gave that day."



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