CONWAY — Horry County will not allow New Directions charity to place a donation container at the Myrtle Beach International Airport to help the homeless because of concerns about how it would reflect on the area’s image and because other charities wouldn’t have the same opportunity.
New Directions wanted to place a donation container at Myrtle Beach International Airport in the departure area where passengers empty their pockets before going through an X-Ray machine as a way to raise money for the charity’s programs helping the homeless. Travelers tend to put coins from their pockets in a donation bin if there is one, according to airports who have donation bins.
Three agencies – Street Reach, the Center for Women and Children, and Citizens Against Spousal Abuse – merged into New Directions of Horry County in the spring of 2013.
New Directions brought the idea of the donation containers to the Airport Advisory Committee in April and that committee had the same concerns as Council: image and the fact that other organizations would not have the opportunity to raise funds in a similar way.
The idea gained momentum earlier this month when the county’s administration committee voted favorably to recommend the County Council approve the idea, combating critics of the exclusivity to New Directions by stating the group came up with the idea and should be allowed to raise funds at the airport.
But councilmen, who talked about the donation bins Tuesday and commended New Directions for the work it does, wasn’t buying the idea.
“I’m just hesitant that if we start this, to be fair to everybody, we’re going to have to open the doors to everybody,” said councilman Al Allen. “I know a lot of charitable organizations that would jump at this. I just think that this is a slippery slope here.”
Councilman Brent Schulz said he, too, feared there would be more organizations wanting to have a container at the airport.
“I have nothing against the organization. I appreciate everything you do. I just think it might put us in a tough spot.”
Councilman Bob Grabowski called it an impersonal way of begging.
“This is just an impersonal way of soliciting. I support the organization. You do great work with great intentions, but I just don’t support this for the airport.”
Councilman Harold Worley, who has been critical of the idea from the start, personally pledged $1,600 to the charity, which is what he estimated the group would have received through the donation bin in a year – based on number of passengers and amount raised by other airports.
“I’m not trying to take your money away from you, but it just bothers me that the last impression that a visitor going to have when he leaves Myrtle Beach is we’re asking you to help us feed our homeless,” Worley said. “Is that the last thought we want them to have when they leave our beach?
“It just bothers me to have this in there, and I humbly ask you to accept my $1,600 pledge and not do this.”
Councilman Gary Loftus also pledged $500 to the organization.
All is not lost with the idea. The city of Myrtle Beach agreed to place donation containers at locations near Plyler Park downtown and where Eighth Avenue North and Ninth Avenue North meet Ocean Boulevard.
County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus supported the idea of the airport container and even helped get it through the county’s administration committee. After seeing the measure would likely get defeated if it went to a vote, he reminded councilmen worried about the image of the area that tourists would still see and interact with panhandlers.
“If this isn’t the will of council, that’s fine. I understand your positions too, and I respect them,” Lazarus said, adding the donation container would have been a move in the right direction to help homeless people get off the streets. “At the same time, after the tourists are leaving, they have experienced the panhandling and the solicitations from the homeless individuals themselves.”
Contact JASON M. RODRIGUEZ at 626-0301 or on Twitter @TSN_JRodriguez.