Brother, Can You Spare a Can?

A new program intended to solve the scourge of panhandling replaces spare change with a "Can of Help." Sort of.

But aside from hotline numbers, it's unclear how much the HIP dollars really offer panhandlers. On the bottom of the canary yellow coupon, in tiny, smudgy type, are the words no cash value. Printed above that is the clothing discount.

Chiavaroli says he ran the idea by a focus group of 25 homeless people for their input. New Times also showed a HIP dollar to a few homeless people.

Cliff, a fair-haired 22-year old, says of the clothing discount, "That's a waste. They can get clothes from the Salvation Army. That's the least of their concerns." Now living in a shelter, Cliff has been on and off the streets since he was eight years old. When he panhandled, he says, "I did it for food. It was survival."

Advertising executive Warren Chiavaroli  is the man behind the plan to sell  Cans of Help at  local Shell stations
Sherri Cohen
Advertising executive Warren Chiavaroli is the man behind the plan to sell Cans of Help at local Shell stations

Werthman says the HIP dollars are good for food since they provide a one-way bus ride to several soup kitchens where free meals are served. "Take this bus to a new life," says the ad campaign, which will include "king-sized" bus posters, informational cards, and bus-shelter posters.

But Rich, a slim, soft-spoken 17 year-old and former street kid, says, in his experience it's immediate food, not clothing or a bus ride to food, that's in demand. However, he says, the hotline information is useful: "[Homeless people] will read anything."

Rich at first suggests he'd save his HIP dollars -- until he learns they can't be "spent" on anything but thrift-store merchandise or a bus trip. "Oh," he says, pausing. "I think they should be good for food. Just add that in."

Chiavaroli isn't adding that in, though. It's a relatively small detail, and he's a big man with big ideas. The ivory walls of Southland's conference room are proof; they're lined with several prestigious "Addy" awards from the American Association of Advertising Agencies. The same organization also honored Chiavaroli in the category of "industry self-promotion" for a TV spot called "Bum on a Bench."

Thus accustomed to accolades, Chiavaroli radiates self-assurance. He's already thinking of conveying "canhandling" to other cities, maybe taking it nationwide.

And though it has yet to launch locally, on one level, at least, Can of Help is already a success.

"Graphically," he says, "it worked really well."

« Previous Page
My Voice Nation Help