Donation boxes: Are they doing any good?

New homelessness donation boxes in downtown Ashland are getting mixed reactions — if people even notice them at all.

The Ashland Chamber of Commerce, city of Ashland and St. Vincent de Paul are cooperating on the donation box project, which is meant to encourage people to donate via the boxes rather than giving money directly to panhandlers.

St. Vincent de Paul will use the money to help prevent homelessness and aid people in escaping from homelessness.

City workers put up three small, mainly white donation boxes last Friday. The boxes contain wording inviting people to donate.

One box is by Ashland City Hall on the downtown Plaza, a second is also on the Plaza in front of Mix Sweet Shop, and a third is near the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Welcome Center at the corner of Main and Pioneer streets.

That third box will eventually be moved to a small plaza area in front of the Chamber of Commerce and OSF's Black Swan Theatre, said Graham Lewis, a member of the city of Ashland's Homeless Steering Committee and the staff photographer and volunteer coordinator for the Chamber of Commerce.

The small plaza by the Chamber and Black Swan Theatre is a popular spot for tourists, street musicians and homeless people.

A young homeless man with a black puppy nestled in his lap was sitting on a sidewalk within eyesight of the donation box near Mix Sweet Shop earlier this week. He held a cardboard sign asking for money to buy puppy food.

"I've been sitting here for a while and I haven't seen anybody put money in," he said of the donation box. "I've been getting money."

The man, who wanted to remain anonymous, said he thinks the donation boxes are "the worst idea ever." He said most homeless people he has talked to share the same sentiment.

He said he believes the money will not benefit Ashland's homeless because the local St. Vincent de Paul is based in Medford.

Lewis said St. Vincent de Paul's Ashland and Medford operations are separate. He said 12 highly trained volunteers — many of them retired social workers and counselors — meet with people in Ashland who are on the verge of homelessness or already homeless to assess their needs and get them help.

Lewis said the volunteers meet with clients in their homes if they still are housed, or out on the streets, on benches or in cars.

The volunteers can offer diverse forms of aid, from helping to pay utility bills to buying gas for a person to drive to a job interview, Lewis said.

He said any money in the donation boxes has not been counted yet. The Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and the Ashland City Council will receive quarterly reports on money collected. They also will hear which donation box sites are most productive.

Lewis said the Chamber of Commerce raised funds to pay for the donation boxes, which cost $160 each. City workers installed them.

A group of women visiting Ashland from Eugene applauded the idea of helping the homeless via donation boxes rather than handing money directly to panhandlers.

"I think it's a terrific idea," said Glenda Chorlton of Eugene.

Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-479-8199 or

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