Fool Spotlights Three New Charities

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By Sari Pollof
April 1, 2004

For several years, The Motley Fool has featured a handful of world-changing charities during our annual Foolanthropy drive. Traditionally, we highlight these organizations during the holiday season. However, during our last drive, we learned about three other outstanding charities. We were so impressed that we couldn't wait until December to tell the Fool Community about them. Once you've read their profiles, we're sure you'll agree.

Pushed to the Side (PS)
The pharmaceuticals industry has made great strides in alleviating and even curing many illnesses and diseases. Unfortunately, many of these remedies have caused their own disorders. Today, tens of thousands of Americans suffer from a silent shame: side effects.

We've heard about them in commercials, but they're listed so fast, in such hushed tones, that we don't give them a second thought. But right now, someone you love could be suffering from cramps, nausea, lethargy, giddiness, catatonia, itchy brain, stinky ear, hairy gums, or one of thousands of possible adverse reactions to drugs.

You may not know about their suffering because they don't feel comfortable discussing the side effects. They fear being labeled as "whiners" or "hypochondriacs." They're afraid people will say, "You complained about your depression, so you started taking Wellbutrin. But now you're complaining about agitation, confusion, nervousness, anxiety, delusions, hallucinations, psychosis, concentration disturbance, and paranoia. Can't you just be happy?!"

Furthermore, some of these side effects are so unpleasant that no one wants to admit to having them. It's no big deal to tell people you take Lipitor to lower your cholesterol, but who wants to explain the amnesia and frequent trips to the bathroom?

Which is why Pushed to the Side (PS) was founded. PS helps members decide if a drug is worth the side effects. Is that anti-nausea drug worth psychotic episodes? Is the relief from anxiety disorder provided by Buspar worth the risk of drowsiness, dizziness, lightheadedness, fatigue, weakness, vivid dreams, sleeplessness, dry skin, blurred vision, altered sense of taste and smell, weight gain, muscle aches, ringing in the ears, nausea, and headaches? Should a person afflicted with irritable bowel syndrome seek relief from Lotronex, despite reports of constipation so bad that patients required hospitalization?

But more importantly, PS provides understanding. According to Director Jan Trools, "PS is a place where people can feel safe to talk about the pain and shame of side effects. We don't judge. We don't label people. Our message is: 'We love you, despite your oily discharge'" (a side effect of diet pill Xenical).

Don't Hang Up
By the end of 2003, 55 million phone numbers had been entered into the National Do Not Call Registry. While this has been a victory for consumers who don't want to be disturbed at home, it has been a disaster for the people who used to make those calls.

Thousands of former telemarketers now find themselves unemployed, and embittered. It hasn't been easy for former telemarketers to begin new careers. The characteristics of a successful cold-caller -- a penchant for one-sided conversations, the ability to ignore social cues, a lack of empathy -- aren't valued by many other industries.

Some have moved on to other careers, such as bill collectors, customer service reps for cellular providers, and full-service brokers. One did well on American Idol.

A group of ex-telemarketers saw that their former colleagues needed help, so they formed Don't Hang Up, a non-profit organization that helps old phone jockeys with their re-introduction into society. It provides support, education, and -- for the most skilled on the phone -- new jobs. After all, Don't Hang Up is a charity, which means it's exempt from the rules of the Do Not Call Registry. So there's no need to call Don't Hang Up to make a donation -- they'll be calling you, probably around dinnertime.

Samoa-holics Anonymous
In 2001, a group of four men and four women began meeting in the basement of the St. Louis Church in Hattawa, Okla. They were of different ages and came from various backgrounds, but they had two things in common: (1) They were really fat, and (2) they craved Samoas�, those ambrosial Girl Scout cookies made of caramel, chocolate, and coconut.

The group dubbed itself "Samoa-holics Anonymous," and members spent meetings discussing their addiction. A year later, they took action: They sued the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., blaming the organization for their obesity.

Their suit was the first domino to fall. Since then, no fewer than 20 suits against the GSUSA began wending their way through the court system. Attorneys for the plaintiffs have displayed photographs showing an expanding army of Girl Scouts outside retail outlets, harassing patrons to buy cookies. "Could you imagine being an alcoholic and having to put up with 10-year-olds dressed as leprechauns outside your neighborhood Wal-Mart shoving a six-pack in your face?" said attorney Herman Stock, who became famous two years ago for representing a man who sued the SC Johnson Company after he used Drano as a laxative.

One suit accuses the Girl Scouts of antitrust violations. "They create a demand yet control the supply," according to Charles Hunt, who was a successful accountant until his 12-year-old neighbor knocked on his door three years ago. "You can't even buy the cookies off the Internet. Desperate people are forced to purchase imitations online from Canada."

Other related suits have been filed against organizations other than the GSUSA. One man is suing the U.S. Surgeon General for neglecting to place warning labels on boxes of Girl Scout cookies. "At least smokers know what they're getting themselves into," said the plaintiff. "When I bought a box of Samoas, I didn't know I was buying pain, suffering, and a 58-inch waistline."

Jenny Whittle is suing her employer, Rugtronics Inc., for permitting a hostile work environment. Whittle claims that employees were regularly harassed by co-workers with daughters who were Girl Scouts. "The pressure to buy cookies from colleagues was enormous, and workers could expect reprisals if they bought cookies from one parent but not another," says Beatrice Bindsley, Whittle's attorney. Bindsley says that Whittle's manager made it clear that a portion of her performance review would be based on how many boxes of Lemon Coolers she ordered.

In the past year, Samoa-holics Anonymous has become a 501(c)(3) non-profit, providing support, counseling, and legal advice for those addicted to Samoas. It also aids groups that help victims who are addicted to other kinds of Girl Scout cookies. In the past six months alone, Samoa-holics has helped fund the Sagalongs Foundation, the Association of Do-Si-Don'ts, Curses: Trefoiled Again, and TMFF, the common name for the Organization of Thin Mints and Fat Folks.

If you can support any of these charities, or have your own special cause to nominate, please let us know about it on our Foolish Feedback discussion board.