Tuesday, Nov. 27 2012 5:30PM
LS charity under investigation
The Free Store operator still committed to opening this weekend; received complaints from donors
By Russ Pulley
A Lee’s Summit charity is operating under the cloud of bad publicity and complaints to the Missouri Attorney General’s Office.
Raven Thornheart says she’s committed to opening The Free Store this Saturday, Dec. 1 at 100 NE Tudor Road, regardless of only having a few boxes of clothing, a television, and some other items to distribute to the needy at this point
She’s promoting her charity on Facebook saying she will persevere regardless of what she calls her “public execution” during a local television report.
That broadcast told the world about her felony record for bouncing checks and not yet having non-profit status approved by the IRS, although its website says it does.
It didn’t mention the bad-check case is also suspended imposition of sentence, which means generally that if the person doesn’t commit another offense they are forgiven and not convicted.
She said the checks bounced because her former husband had cleaned out a bank account without her knowledge. She said she repaid the debt.
Her charity is registered with the Missouri Secretary of State.
Thornheart showed The Journal a letter from the IRS proving she’s in the process of getting not-for-profit status.
She also points to an IRS regulation which says her foundation, Hope for Home and Family, can operate as a non-profit while its application for 501(c)(3) status is pending.
If the application is approved donors’ tax-deductions will be retroactive to the date of the application, in this case June.
“I haven’t done anything wrong and I have nothing to hide,” Thornheart said.
She said she believes a person with a personal vendetta is making false accusations.
The Missouri Attorney General consumer division is “looking into” complaints it has received regarding the charity, said Nanci Gonder, press secretary, stopping short of calling it an investigation. Gonder said she is unable to release any further information at this time.
Thornheart said she has never been contacted by anyone from the attorney general’s office.
The Free Store was the name used by a Lee’s Summit church which ran a similar operation a couple of years ago.
Thornheart, then a Lee’s Summit resident, was a volunteer for that effort. She said she was collecting items left over from garage sales to donate last year when she learned it had stopped functioning. She decided to open it on her own.
She borrowed a space off Missouri 291 and opened under the same name. After the holiday season ended, she said she felt a calling to start her own non-profit and has been working on it since. She’s been hunting for locations, held a fund-raiser, and filed paperwork. If a family in need contacts her, she tries to find them someone who can help.
Jackie Knabe, director of Coldwater, another Lee’s Summit social service charity, said she is acquainted with Thornheart and visited the charity’s store front last year.
Knabe said she can only comment firsthand that she observed Thornheart persuading a propane company to deliver fuel to a family who needed help.
“She has a gift for doing that,” Knabe said. “I believe her intentions are pure, wanting to help people, she has tremendous compassion.”
Thornheart said her desire to help comes from Christian faith and her own life experience, from a young girl suffering abuse to current circumstance.
She is unemployed, living with friends in Raytown.
“I would qualify for my own program,” Thornheart said.
Thornheart said years ago her family struggled with a $900-a-month copay for medical bills for son but was told the family didn’t qualify for help, because her then husband was working. She said she wants to start an agency for those who fall between the cracks, who make too much money for assistance but are struggling.
The storefront has been donated for two months by the landlord, she said.
If Hope for Home and Family survives, Thornheart is dreaming of a big, future. She is looking for grants to pay for property to build a permanent facility.
She plans to appoint a Board of Directors, in January, once the IRS process is complete, so there will be the normal financial oversight.
Thornheart plans to draw a salary as director.
“Maybe I am naive and a hopeless, soft romantic,” Thornheart said. “But I guess if I don’t have optimism or faith, what else is there?”