Vending-Machine Charity Suspect
Father Joe Carroll and his charity venture, St. Vincent de Paul
Village, have deservedly good names. But if the promotion-minded
Father Joe strays too far, he risks besmirching those reputations.
It could happen in North County. With Father Joe's blessing, a
for-profit vending company claims it is part of St. Vincent's
nonprofit operation, when in fact the vending firm gives only a
percentage of its profits to the charity.
In a signed letter, Father Joe identifies Poway's Lee Dooney as
"Project Coordinator of the Vending Outreach Program" of St. Vincent
de Paul Village. In that letter on St. Vincent de Paul's letterhead,
Father Joe solicits companies and institutions to place a
candy-vending machine on their property.
Father Joe asks them to place "our candy machine at your location."
But by Father Joe's admission, Dooney runs a for-profit vending
company that owns and services the machines. "We don't want to be
owning [vending machines] or maintaining them. It's an awful lot of
work," says Father Joe. Dooney "is a businessman; he pays taxes. We
don't want to be in competition with businesses. He uses our name;
we get a cut; we are happy."
Why does he refer to "our" machines? "Technically, they are our
machines because we get paid for each location. That is the way we
look at it," says Father Joe. Sorry. That's a rationalization that
just doesn't wash.
"It's really a racket," says Edward Murphy, a marketing consultant
from Pacific Palisades. "A lot of people in the bulk candy business
will say a part of proceeds go to whatever charity. But you should
not masquerade as the charity. You should say you are a private
vendor that gives a portion of returns to charity."
The recorded message at Dooney's company says, "You have reached St.
Vincent de Paul Vending Outreach Program."
Murphy says he was hired by Dooney to find 75 locations for vending
machines in North County. "I asked him, 'Are you St. Vincent de
Paul's?' " says Murphy. "He said 'yes' and I took him at his word.
That's what I was telling the accounts."
After he placed eight machines, saying that he represented St.
Vincent de Paul, he went to see Dooney at his Poway digs. They are
in pricey "horse country -- really nice," Murphy says. Dooney told
him he had 2000 accounts, according to Murphy, who did some
arithmetic. Dooney should be generating gross of half a million
dollars a year on that many machines.
But Father Joe's letter to potential locations says that St. Vincent
gets $25,000 a year from the so-called outreach. Even after
subtracting product, labor, machine maintenance, and other expenses
from the $500,000 gross, St. Vincent is getting "a small slice of a
rich pie," figured Murphy.
Enraged, he called his eight accounts and said he had mistakenly
misled them. He suggested they take the machines out. "I sent
[Father Joe] an e-mail. I blasted Dooney. I said I know what's going
on," says Murphy. The pictures on the machines should be of Dooney
and not Father Joe, Murphy told the priest.
Father Joe has equally unkind things to say about Murphy. "He was a
guy who wanted a cut of the pie. He tried to get in with Dooney's
company. It's sour grapes," says the priest.
Murphy heatedly denies that any such thing happened, adding, "I am
not in the vending business."
Tom Koppel set up the business and after 15 years sold it to Dooney.
From the outset, Father Joe "wanted me to identify myself as being
from St. Vincent de Paul," says Koppel. Initially, there were
donation boxes on top of the machines, and those who provided
locations were encouraged to donate "old office furniture, food,
refrigerators. But we needed to have a for-profit company. By law, a
nonprofit cannot be involved in [certain] for-profit deals."
As soon as I asked Koppel about Father Joe's reference in his letter
to "our" machines, Koppel said he had to go: someone was at the
Dooney says he bought the business only last September and can't
comment. "I am carrying forth everything that was already in place
with Father Joe," he says.
People in the vending industry see problems in this marketing
approach. Charles Hanna is a vending-industry ethicist. He runs the
Hanna Group in Lenexa, Kansas, and is author of The Vending
Industry: History, Trends, Secrets, Opportunities and Scams . He
says it is not unusual for small vending-machine operators to hook
up with a charity as a marketing ploy. But "people have to say who
they are," says Hanna. There should be full disclosure of who is
operating the machine. "Most charities say XYZ Vending Company is
associated with us. A lot of nonprofits have withdrawn from these
plans when anybody makes any noise."
The Chicago-based vending trade association, the National Automatic
Merchandising Association, says that "a vending company
misrepresenting its profits as charitable contributions...[is]
something NAMA would never condone." It says that St. Vincent de
Paul's Vending Outreach Program is not a member of the association.
Competitors have problems with the Dooney/Father Joe approach too.
"If all the money [less costs] does not go back to the church, it is
unfair to other vendors," says Rhett Edwards, office manager of San
Diego's Sunset Vending.
The exact relationship of the vending company and the charity
"should be clearly stated on the sticker on the machine," says Rick
Pierce of Pierce Vending in Temecula.
Murphy agrees, saying that stickers should make clear that only a
portion of vendors' profits go to charity. "Dooney's machines simply
display big stickers that feature a smiling Father Joe accompanied
by text that reads, 'Help Father Joe feed the hungry, shelter the
homeless and clothe the naked,' " says Murphy. Potential locations
can't resist such a pitch, he says.
Ron Wright, director of residence services at Bright Gardens, a home
for the elderly in Carlsbad, says that the solicitation call he
received was from a person purportedly "putting in candy machines
for St. Vincent de Paul." Recently, Wright got a call (obviously
from Murphy) apologizing for the untrue pitch, saying Father Joe
gets only a small percent and suggesting the machines be removed.
Wright hasn't decided what to do. A small percent "is better than no
By Don Bauder