"Ted Von der Ahe walks past clusters of shopping carts to reach the well-scrubbed building where he works with food, the commodity that made the Vons grocery heir rich.
But these shopping carts are heaped with the ragged belongings of the homeless, and the food is free. Von der Ahe dishes it up as a part-time volunteer for the Los Angeles Catholic Worker soup kitchen on skid row.
"There is a beautiful focus here on helping the poor," said Von der Ahe, 57, who was cleaning the kitchen's ancient stove after a lunch for hundreds of street people.
The former priest's labors carry on a family tradition of charity, although with an organization that does not qualify for donations from the Von der Ahe Foundation.
That's because the Catholic Worker is the rare charity that refuses, on philosophical grounds, to register with the Internal Revenue Service as a tax-exempt nonprofit. The stance dates back seven decades to founder Dorothy Day's admonition to keep the federal government at arm's length. ..."
This story hits close to home as my congregation donates a significant amount each year to three organizations that are operated by the local Catholic Worker community.
Not all of the 135 Catholic Worker Communities in the United States refuse to register with the IRS as a 501(c3) organization; many have done so to ease their working relationships with food banks as well as donors.
The thing that frustrates many people in my town seems to frustrate the people in Los Angeles as well -- It's not so much the inability to make direct donations to the organizations as it is the fact that there is little or no accountability in how the donations are applied.
Our local Catholic Worker organization does work that no one else is doing. And they have chosen not to do it according to the rules that govern charitable organizations. At this point I don't see any churches stepping forward to do the things the Catholic Worker community does, so we have to accept it on faith that the donations are being expended properly.
It would be fair to note that donations to churches are tax-deductible, and that churches, in turn, can make donations to organizations that perform a ministry of compassion.