A local charity once again is struggling, with loss of its tax-exempt status and members of its nonprofit corporation’s board of directors in contention over where the future will take it.
The North Havre house where the community Giveaway House operated for some 40 years is closed, with a sign on the door saying, “The Community Give Away House has been shut down till further notice.”
The Internal Revenue Service confirmed information found on its website about existing, and revoked, tax-exempt organizations, that the Giveaway House’s federal tax-exempt status was revoked in May 2011, with the revocation published in February 2012, for failure to file required forms for three consecutive years.
Sue Markley, vice president of the corporation’s board, said seeing it locked up — and finding donated items hauled to garbage bins at the Havre landfill — is distressing to her and many of the numerous volunteers who have worked at the charity.
“The community Giveaway House had become more to us than just a place to hang up clothes,” she said. “It was about enhancing our services to meet more needs in our community, and we feel very strongly it is truly needed in the Havre area.”
But Sheila Forshee, treasurer of the corporation’s board and granddaughter of one of the charity’s founders, Ruth Nystrom, said the closure was needed.
“Currently, the Giveaway House has been forced to be closed due to internal issues, … and we have been forced to restructure and (find) new board members,” she said in an interview last week, adding that she expected the charity to reopen shortly.
Last week, Forshee threatened to sue the Havre Daily News if it printed any more than that about the closure.
“You don’t dare put anything negative about the community Giveaway House in the Havre Daily News,” she said.
Thursday of this week, however, she had more comments.
“The community Giveaway House has had to restructure to be able to better-serve the community,” she said. “We have had to get a whole new board … to be able to maintain within the guidelines of the nonprofit that Ruth Nystrom set …
“(The Giveaway House) will have different hours, and we are working on a separate entity … to be able to support the community Giveaway House and be able to help people in ways the community Giveaway House was unable,” she added.
“I want the community to understand that I had to be drastic,” she also said. “That I had to come back and restructure.”
A 40-year history of giving
The Giveaway House was created by Ruth Nystrom and Ann Friesen some 40 years ago. The house, with the “shut down till further notice” sign on the door, belonged to Ruth Nystrom and her husband, Karl, until Ruth deeded it over in 1998 to the Giveaway House, with the provision that if the Giveaway House failed to use the property for charitable purposes, it would revert to the Nystroms or their heirs.
Ruth Nystrom also signed the articles of incorporation creating the state-recognized nonprofit, created Jan. 23, 1989.
The duo, both now deceased, led the work of the charity for decades, including through difficult times in the last 20 years.
In 2000, a group of Havre High School students organized help for the charity, buying materials used by the Havre High woods class to make new collection bins for the Giveaway House and the volunteer students helping clean up, repair and paint the house. Friesen said at that time that the help, and other assistance, was greatly appreciated.
“We were running short of funds,” she told the Havre Daily in December 2000. “We didn't have the funds to pay the bills.”
After Nystrom and Friesen both retired from working at the charity the volunteers still working at the house tried to keep it going, but said in 2008 — after Nystrom’s death — the Giveaway House was closing.
Markley said Forshee helped spearhead an effort at that time to revive her grandmother’s charity, and new board members were selected and volunteers kept the tradition alive.
Board, charity, in transition, conflict
Markley said last week she has been looking into, for several months, finding a new location for the Giveaway House.
She has made an offer, she said, for the former Salvation Army, and later Branded by Fire Ministries, location on 6th Avenue and 2nd Street. She submitted a letter to the editor printed in the Havre Daily Wednesday telling people of the effort and asking for financial help to make the down payment, and is asking for volunteers to help at the new charity once it opens.
While the offer was being made on the former Salvation Army, the original location was closed.
Markley said evidence came to light that insurance — both on the Giveaway House building in North Havre and the van used by the organization — may have lapsed. Markley started telling volunteers that they should not be in the house until that was cleared up, and that people coming to donate or receive items may not be covered by insurance as well.
About four weeks ago, Forshee changed the locks on the building donated by her grandmother, keeping the other board members and volunteers out.
“The family had to come back and redeem the property because of the internal unwillingness to listen to how it was supposed to be structured,” Forshee said Thursday, although she declined to comment on specifics of what was being done improperly.
“I don’t want to taint and give a bad taste in the community (about the Giveaway House),” Forshee said.
Items in the trash
Markley and Giveaway House volunteer Jim Howendobler said they saw another problem this week — items that had been donated to the Giveaway House and stored there for distribution were hauled out to the local landfill and thrown away.
Howendobler said Tuesday he was going past the Giveaway House Monday and saw pickup trucks backed up to the building and people hauling items out of it. The items were taken to the landfill, he said.
Howendobler and Markley were at the landfill Tuesday morning salvaging items. Markley showed sheets that had been at the Giveaway House, sorted, tied up and labeled by volunteer Sue Case, recovered from a garbage bin.
She said the sheets had been kept in locked boxes in the Giveaway House, because, otherwise, people would grab whole stacks of them.
“We tried to ration them,” Markley said.
She said she and Howendobler found at the landfill at least 20 trash bags full of items she believed were from the Giveaway House.
Markley also said she hopes people hold off on donating items to the organization until all of its issues are ironed out — she is concerned that donations could be thrown away.
Forshee said she does not know how the items could have been taken from the Giveaway House. She said the only idea that comes to her mind is that someone took the items before she changed the locks, perhaps storing them until this week.
Possible competing entities
Forshee said Thursday she is close to making an announcement about the creation of a new organization that would support the Giveaway House and provide other help in the community.
She said she also is in the process of restoring the tax-exempt status of the organization.
The new entity would be able to help in many ways the Giveaway House could not, she said, such as possibly helping people find ways to remodel their homes, or providing help to people moving to the community who could not afford a temporary hotel room.
“The new business could be able to help in all these other facets,” Forshee said, adding that it could help overlook and support the Giveaway House and the general communities in ways the charity could not before.
Forshee and Melissa McAuley and Debbie Stewart also submitted a letter to the editor of the Havre Daily News Thursday announcing they were opening a new thrift store, Ruth Ann’s, on 2nd Street and 3rd Avenue.
The stock will be of surplus items donated to the Giveaway House, the letter reads.
Meanwhile, Markley and other board members and volunteers are continuing to work on their seperate project.
“I hope you will continue to support us on our new venture as you have supported the community Giveaway House through all the years it has been open,” Markley said in another letter she wrote about the effort. “We know we will need a lot of help.”