At the Olde Good Things antique store on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, an Italian crystal chandelier can be sold for tens of thousands of dollars.
Wealthy shoppers often frequent the store, which has five chains in New York, two in Los Angeles and a warehouse in Scranton, Pennsylvania, searching for unusual items for home renovations, much of it salvaged from old buildings.
In return, the store’s Christian missionary owners offer their customers a heart-warming story: Part of the proceeds pay for the group’s orphanage in Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world.
“The profits of Olde Good Things are used to fully support our mission in Haiti, where we’ve been for over 30 years. We have two orphanages that are fully supported through the profits of Olde Good Things,” says store manager Jim Digiacoma, who worked in the group’s orphanages in Haiti when they were first set up.
But what they don’t tell customers is that even though they claim to be spending around 2.5 (m) million US dollars annually on the orphanage (according to a 2011 International Revenue Service filing), a recent inspection of the home for girls and boys was so dirty and overcrowded that the government said it shouldn’t remain open.
In November, The Associated Press made an unannounced visit to the orphanage’s two homes, currently holding a total of 120 children, and found conditions a world away from the opulent Manhattan apartments decorated with the store’s antiques.
Bunk beds with faded and worn mattresses were crowded into dirty rooms.
Sour air wafted through the bathrooms and stairwells and rooms were dark and spartan, lacking comforts or decoration.
Justin Fair, a 32-year-old from New Jersey and the sole church member living on site, defended the orphanage.
“We try to make the life the best we can for the children, I think they have, compared to some orphanages we’ve visited, they have it very good,” he said.
Other staff said they were trying to improve conditions at the orphanage.
The orphanage has two homes, with about 60 children in each.
They are located a few minutes apart in Kenscoff in the mountains above Port-au-Prince where steep, windy roads offer panoramic views of the sprawl and misery characterising much of the capital.
A report from the social welfare agency specifically faults only one of the homes, though both appeared similar during the recent visit.
While many other orphanages also failed Haiti’s new national standards, the group’s three-storey building on the hilly outskirts of Port-au-Prince stands out because it’s run by an organisation with such an unusual, and successful fundraising operation.
The failure to meet the standards would seem to contradict their financial position.
According to Haiti’s Institute of Social Welfare and Research (IBEASR) the sanitary conditions were “terrible,” and there were too many kids for the amount of space.
They also found not all children were going to school and the staff lacked adequate training.
The result is that the orphanage was placed on a warning list. It’s only allowed to remain open because Haiti lacks the resources to close the facility and find new homes for the children.
Arielle Jeanty Villedrouin, IBEASR general director said that of 700 orphanages around 75 percent have written permission to operate.
“There will be a lot working without written permission. Usually they have to be closed, but to close the centre you need to have the means to move them – you need a place to put children, you need to do research on (their) parents, to reunite them with their families,” she explained.
That the orphanage, run by Olde Good Things’ owner, US-based Church of Bible Understanding, struggles is a surprise, given that it has a seemingly well-funded operation.
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