The Lakewood, NJ-based Kars4Kids is a front for Joy For Our Youth, which itself is a front for Oorah, a haredi missionary organization. The Saint Louis Post Dispatch reports on the deceptive advertising used by Kars-For-Kids, and the questionable business practices of Oorah:
Radio jingle is catchy-and it may catch you
By Bill Smith
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
One of the hottest musical offerings of this holiday season may be a catchy radio jingle for a New Jersey-based vehicle donation program:
"1-877-KARS4KIDS. . . K-A-R-S, cars for kids . . . 1-877-KARS4KIDS. . . Donate your car today."
The advertising spots, which have been airing on KMOX since before Thanksgiving, offer few details on the vehicle donation program. They tell listeners the program is a "recognized charity" and donors will receive a "maximum deduction" from the Internal Revenue Service for their vehicles. The ad also says donors will receive a "free vacation voucher" good for a three-day, two-night stay.
What is left unsaid, and what also is conspicuously absent from the charity's Web site, is that almost all money raised through the Kars4Kids charity goes to a Lakewood, N. J.-based program set up to pay for private schooling and other educational programs. It aims to bring Jewish schoolchildren and adults closer to their heritage.
A 2004 report from the Better Business Bureau's national office, the most recent available, is tough on the Kars4Kids and related JOY For Our Youth program. The report says the charity may not meet at least eight of the BBB's 20 standards for charity accountability.
Among the BBB concerns:
The group's board of directors does not provide adequate oversight of the charity's organization and staff.
The group has declined to make public annual financial statements or annual reports.
The group does not have a board-approved budget.
Despite requests, the charity has not provided the BBB with fundraising and informational materials about its programs.
A BBB official says 70 percent of the national charities it has scrutinized meet all of its accountability standards.
Officials with Kars4Kids and JOY For Our Youth did not responded to several Post-Dispatch requests for information about either its advertising campaign or its programs.
The radio advertising spots refer listeners to the group's Web site at Kars4Kids.com. As of Tuesday, the site said car donations benefit JOY for Our Youth, which it describes as "an international organization providing for the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of distressed and at-risk youth."
The site also says that JOY was established in 1996 "to help those children who were on the streets with no one to turn to for help. JOY stepped in to fulfill a need for children who had nowhere to go and no one to turn to for help."
None of the Web site information indicates that Kars4Kids or JOY have any ties to a specific religious group, but federal tax records paint a different picture.
JOY's 2003 tax filing with the IRS - the most recent available - reports that its only only grant that year, for $207,000, was made to a nonprofit group called Oorah Inc. Tax records for both JOY and Oorah list the same New Jersey address.
While phone calls placed to Oorah also were not returned, that group's Web site says it was founded in 1980, "with the goal of awakening Jewish children and their families to their heritage.
"We seek out families who are interested in enriching their spiritual lives and provide them with the right resources to succeed."
The site also says Oorah enables children to enroll in Jewish day schools or yeshivas and brings "adult education opportunities to the parent, as well as all the ritual objects and support they need to live a full Jewish life."
A January 2005 story in New York's The Jewish Week said Oorah recruits potential students by going "door-to-door" in search of unobservant Jewish families receptive to the idea of sending their children to day school.
The article quotes Oorah's head, Eli Mintz, as saying: "I think it's the right of every Jewish child to know his tradition. And for him to really know his roots and who he is, not to intermarry, to keep his Jewish identity, without a yeshiva education, he doesn't have a clue."
The story says Mintz takes no salary but added that "he does not explain the source of his income."
Bennett Weiner, chief operating officer with the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance, said federal tax rules on car donations were tightened beginning with this year. Prior to this year, most donors could claim a tax deduction in the amount of the fair market value of the donated vehicle. Now, if the charity or its agent resells a donated car, the donor in most cases is able to take a deduction only for the amount of the car sale.
Weiner also said car donations have become increasingly popular among charities, which usually negotiate with third-party brokers to pick up and sell the cars for them.
Weiner urged that vehicle owners research a charity's programs, finances and governance before making a donation.
He did not criticize the Kars4Kids program, saying the BBB reports serve only as a guide to help prospective donors decide whether they should give to a specific charity.
Kars-For-Kids describes Joy For Our Youth this way:
Your car donation to Kars-4-Kids™ will benefit Joy for Our Youth. J.O.Y. is an international organization providing for the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of distressed and at-risk youth.…
JOY is a registered international, 501(c)(3), non-profit organization providing developmental programs for at risk youth. JOY provides food, clothing, shelter, health and wellness, education, after school programs, special training, mentoring, tutoring, private counseling, summer programs, and guidance to children from the ages of six to eighteen.
Established in 1996 to help those children who were on the streets with no one to turn to for help. The dire situation of many young children was at dangerous levels. JOY stepped in to fulfill a need for children who had no where to go and no one to turn to for help. JOY has blossomed into an international organization helping to alleviate the problems of hundreds of children, and finding solutions that work.
Yet, all of Joy's money goes to Oorah, which describes itself this way:
Oorah, which means "Awaken," was founded in 1980 with the goal of awakening Jewish children and their families to their heritage.
We seek out families who are interested in enriching their spiritual lives, and provide them with the right resources to succeed.
We enable children to enroll in Jewish day schools or yeshivos, where they receive a full religious and secular education straight through high school.
While the children learn and grow, we bring adult education opportunities to the parents, as well as all the ritual objects and support they need to live a full Jewish life.
Oorah has the endorsements (Download oorah_rabbinic_endorsements.pdf) of many haredi gedolim and rabbinic leaders, including many who sigined the Rabbi Slifkin Ban, and a who's who of Modern Orthodox leaders as well, including YU's Rabbi Modechai Willig, the OU and YU's Rabbi Menachem Genak, and the Beit Din of America's Rabbi Michael Broyde.
Also note that Kars-For-Kids and Joy For Our Youth have apparently stolen the trademarked Dummies symbol from the Dummies Guides series and used it for a "Dummies Guide To Car Donations" and for a "Dummies Guide To In Kind Donations" on their respective websites.
UPDATE #1: Steven I. Weiss notes that the Kars4Kids website is registered to Rabbi Eliyohu Mintz, who also heads up Oorah. Oorah's president is Rabbi Chaim Mintz, a senior official at the Yeshiva of Staten Island.
Oorah owns Cucumber Communications, and claims that "every penny" of profit goes to Oorah's activities.
UPDATE #2: Kars4Kids Chicago-area car seller is a convicted felon who has previously defrauded the charities he represents.
[More on Oorah's finances here.]