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‘Please Sir, Could You Spare A Coupon?’

September 18, 1991

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Businesses on Tuesday began selling coupons that can be given to panhandlers and redeemed only for food from street vendors.

This gives people who live, work or shop in downtown Philadelphia a way to help beggars who are truly hungry without suspecting their charity gifts of cash will be used to buy booze and drugs.

The three-month program is also to raise money for a downtown dining hall for the homeless that is expected to open this fall.

Each $5 coupon book has 10 coupons worth 25 cents each and includes a $2.50 donation to the I Do Care Foundation’s building fund. The private foundation, started by downtown businessmen, is working to set up a dining hall and homeless center.

Problems with zoning and complaints from neighbors have foiled past plans, but IDC chair Nancy Gold said the group expects to sign a lease within the next month or so.

″If things go as planned, we’ll be able to have our first dinner on Thanksgiving,″ she said.

The foundation is negotiating for use of two sites, Gold said. She would say only that the buildings are in the central part of the city.

By Tuesday morning, 75 of the city’s 350 venders had bought coupon books to sell and put decals on their carts to show that they would accept the coupons in exchange for food, said United Food Vendors of Philadelphia spokesman Jerome Balka.

″I like this for poor people who don’t have any money,″ said Gus Mavridis, who has a cart at 16th and Locust streets. ″I’m helping.″

A 25 cent coupon plus a nickle will buy a soft pretzel at his cart.

The coupon books will also be sold by many downtown businesses, according to Alphonse Pignataro, executive director of the Center City Proprietors Association.

On the back of each coupon is a list of shelters with addresses and phone numbers.

City Councilwoman Joan Specter, an IDC board member, said feeding the hungry will reduce the number of panhandlers and help revitalize the downtown.

″One of the reasons people don’t come into Center City to shop is because of the homeless situation,″ she said.

IDC evolved from a task force set up by Mayor W. Wilson Goode in 1989 to explore solutions to the problems of panhandling, hunger and homelessness downtown.

Gold was head of the task force’s Panhandling Curtailment Committee. The committee’s charge was to stop panhandling through a public awareness campaign.

But she said urging people to say ‘no’ to beggars was not realistic because people often feel compelled to help someone who asks for food.

One purpose of the coupon program is to determine how many of the panhandlers are really hungry and how many are out looking for drug money, Gold said.

Another aim is to get people involved in solving the homeless problem, she said.

Goode on Tuesday called the coupon program ″innovative and creative,″ but stressed the need for permanent centers where homeless people can go for food.

IDC printed 10,000 coupon books, which if all sold would bring in $25,000, Gold said. The bulk of the foundation’s money has come from the W.W. Smith Foundation in a $24,000 grant, she said.

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