Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Reach, Inc – From Roasted Peanuts to Abused Kids

On Halloween 1977, Citizens for Research, Education, and Community Hope, Inc. (R.E.A.C.H, Inc.) was born in Meridian, Mississippi. Within ten years they had successfully petitioned for, and been granted, tax-exempt status as a charitable organization under the Internal Revenue Service’s 501(c)(3) designation. They did so by claiming that the bulk of their financial support came “from the sell [sic] of fresh roasted peanuts and homemade peanut brittle by Reach volunteers.”

Reach, Inc. soliciting in front of a Wal-Mart

According to officially-filed paperwork, by 1986 Bishop Luke Edwards and his followers had already implemented the nomadic fundraising infrastructure (internally known as The Route) that still fills the organization’s coffers today. They describe a specialized team of 6 to 8 “volunteers” who scour the country for sympathetic retailers that will allow the organization to solicit funds in front of their store. While they have since abandoned the “bake sale” subterfuge, they still employ the same system of fund-raising today while claiming that all donations prevent “child abuse.”

Each revenue team was assigned a driver and secretary to accompany them while they spent months at a time traversing the United States in search of donations. The system was so effective that by the time the group’s I.R.S. paperwork was stamped, Reach’s donation teams had already brought in $892,910.84 and covered twenty-eight different states in less than three years.

Edward’s organization claimed that in exchange for these donations, it provided a rehabilitation program for “the abused and underprivileged children, educationally unenlightened youth, and economically deprived adults” as well as childcare and business training. When asked on their application to describe the process of becoming a member or beneficiary of REACH,Inc. they responded:
“Their [sic] are no fees or applications to fill out. One simply comes to the office and request [sic] to be a part of Reach. The members of Reach all needed help at one time or another. Reach is for people who need help.”
One of the most striking characteristics of the group’s filed paperwork how inundated it is with grammatical errors. You would be hard pressed to locate a more depressing exercise in written English outside of the junk filter in a Hotmail account. Some highlights:

When asked to describe the qualifications of Bob Bryant, one of only two paid employees, they responded:
“Bob grew up on a farm, duing [sic] the vary [sic] same jobs, which he was hired to do.”
Under section 3 of their Form 1023 paperwork when asked to describe their activities:
“We therefore fill [sic] that we are producing a workable model for the country. We hepl [sic] people from every walk of life.”
The ultimate irony is that all of the organization’s paperwork was prepared by the group’s secretary, a woman who utilizes the entire final paragraph to highlight the fact that she was trained “buy [sic] reach” in the arts of “farming, accounting, and public relations.” She assures the federal authorities that all “juviniles” [sic] placed in their hands will learn a small business and evolve from being a mere “studeny” [sic] into a manager. 

After reading the group's paperwork, several questions came to mind:

1. Did anyone actually read I.R.S. forms in 1986? If a team of eight people selling peanut brittle outside of a Piggly Wiggly can generate almost a half-million dollars a year, my church youth group would have commissioned our own yacht in the late 90’s. Even in the subsequent response from the Internal Revenue Service, I found no request for clarification regarding how peanuts could bring in enough cash to finance a small drug cartel.

2. Even if a hypothetical nationwide peanut shortage made such revenue figures plausible, did the Federal government really believe that a tutoring program whose star pupil misspelled the word “help” twice in a single paragraph was the actual recipient of these funds? By the groups own admission, they never exceeded 100 youths in the year they claimed $369,081 in revenue. This means that if all of that money went to education, as the group claimed, they were spending $3,691 per student which exceeded the national average in 1986. While I am sure that these fundraising campaigns had expenses, those would have been easily offset by the fact that none of the teachers employed by REACH, Inc. were paid.  

Perhaps it was the promise of self-sufficiency for the working poor in the rural south that caused the Internal Revenue Service to rubber stamp the group’s designation, but I am of the mindset that any initial trepidation they had concerning the organization’s integrity was no match for their mastery of the written word. With that in mind, I leave you with the REACH, Inc. mission statement as presented in 1986 to the United States government:

“We believe that if we feed you today, we have started something that will become very costly in the lone-fun [sic], but if we teach you how to feed yourself, we feed you for a lifetime. Self-help is our criteria, just want to help yourself.”
You can read a more in-depth article about Reach, Inc. here.

The group's complete I.R.S. application can be downloaded as a PDF here.

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