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[whitespace] Penny Pincher

Palo Alto--Call it Robin Hood in reverse. Someone is robbing the poor and giving to, well, no one is really sure.

Seven cans full of change donated for the homeless were stolen from Palo Alto store counters in October. The cans, placed in Palo Alto businesses by the non-profit Another Way, are intended to give Palo Alto's well-heeled and well-meaning an impulse-outlet for philanthropy.

Created at the behest of downtown merchants in 1992, the Another Way program was intended to take a bite out of the intensive panhandling by taking the coin transaction away from the sidewalk and into the stores.

"Instead of giving your money to panhandlers, you can give your money directly to services that help the homeless," Another Way coordinator Sara Gifford explains.

And while occasionally a can or two comes up missing on the monthly rounds to collect the change, October's can thefts set a dubious record.

"We have a volunteer woman who goes around collecting," Gifford says. "Once in a while there's one missing, but never like this."

The culprit, says Gifford, is a man--possibly homeless himself--who poses as an Another Way volunteer. The suspect has walked into several businesses, informed the trusting soul at the counter he's authorized to take the can, and off he goes.

Gifford sent out an advisory asking store managers to demand identification from anyone claiming to be an Another Way volunteer before allowing them to make off with a donation can. She says there's no way of knowing how much change was lost, but that it could be as much as $100.

Gifford says she filed a report with the Palo Alto police, but no one there seems to know anything about the crime.

"Somebody been stealing those?" exclaimed one police dispatcher. "That is so low."

The thefts come at a time when Another Way is attempting to expand the number of businesses participating in the program, from the University and California Avenue business districts to the Town and Country shopping center, Middlefield Road and the Stanford Shopping Center.

Since it was established six years ago, Another Way has collected $60,000 in change.

The most generous homeless-helpers, according to monthly Another Way statistics, are Whole Foods shoppers. The Whole Foods canister bulges with, on average, $162 in change a month. Not too far behind are Long's Drugs shoppers, who dropped $78 into the kitty last month, and Border's Bookstore browsers, who donated $70.

Stanford Shopping Center donates all the coins pitched into one of its fountains to Another Way, a total of $1,222 so far this year. And while the tony A/X Armani store decided a homeless canister didn't quite fit with the decor, it gave a $1,505 donation to Another Way in March from proceeds from holiday T-shirt sales.

The recipients of Another Way donations are the Urban Ministry of Palo Alto and the Alliance for Community Care.
Michael Learmonth

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