How Warren Buffett’s fortune is going directly to those in need

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JUDY WOODRUFF: And now to a NewsHour Shares.

In 2006, after billionaire businessman Warren Buffett announced that he was giving away much of his fortune, people started writing him letters asking for help. He turned them over to his sister, who has been responding to them ever since as part of a foundation.

Tina Martin from PBS station WGBH in Boston has the story.

TINA MARTIN: These letters are from people from all across the country who are desperate for help.

NONI CAMPBELL, Letters Foundation: Somebody would say, I’m on disability and I need dentures and I don’t have any money. Could you help me with dentures?

TINA MARTIN: Some are handwritten. Others are typed. But they all come to the Letters Foundation, run by billionaire Warren Buffet’s older sister, Doris.

She started reading letters at the request of her brother, who was being flooded with pleas for help. Noni Campbell is a longtime friend of Doris, lovingly called Dodo. They met more than a decade ago.

NONI CAMPBELL: She had a blue sofa in her condo up in Maine, and she would be sitting in one little corner of it, and the entire rest of the sofa was piled with letters from people, boxes and boxes.

TINA MARTIN: All of those boxes came with Doris Buffett when she moved to Boston, but she needed help reading them; 1,200 people volunteered.

Emily Holland was one of them.

EMILY HOLLAND, Letters Foundation: I think we don’t want to believe how easy it is to fall into a situation that’s overwhelming or that we feel like we can’t get out of.

TINA MARTIN: Volunteers are being trained over the next several weeks, but not everyone will read letters,

AMY KINGMAN, Letters Foundation: We actually created a new role, which are the group — a number of people who are here training today, and those are our researchers.

TINA MARTIN: The researchers will verify people’s identities and stories. They also make sure requests fulfill the foundation’s mission of making one-time grants to help them get back on their feet.

Unfortunately, businesses is brisk.

TEVIS SPEZIA, Letters Foundation: Since we have been in Boston, we have given out about 260,000 in the fiscal year of 2016. In total, we have given out about a little over 300,000 now.

We give any sorts of grants upwards of $35,000 in a case like that that’s a handicap van, and you have to spend a little bit more to provide the vehicle, and then smaller amounts to cover some utilities and help people get back on their feet can be as small as $200, $300.

TINA MARTIN: While the foundation operates with a strict budget, there is no budget when it comes to giving.

TEVIS SPEZIA: If anyone has worked closely with Doris, she always speaks about how she wants her last check to bounce.

TINA MARTIN: The Buffett family is also very hands-on. Now 89, Doris isn’t always in the office, but talks with staff daily. It’s part of her personal touch, like how people are required to make a request with old-fashioned letters.

MIMI ROZEK, Letters Foundation: She really loves the personal connection of a handwritten letter. That’s how the program really started, too, with Warren, was people writing and sending in physical letters.

TINA MARTIN: And Mimi Rozek, Doris’ granddaughter, promises they read every letter.

MIMI ROZEK: It’s very humbling. And, at times, it’s a little bit stressful, just because sometimes we can’t help with all of them for various reasons, but the vast majority, we are able to help. And that’s really great.

TINA MARTIN: For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Tina Martin in Boston.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s an inspiration.

The post How Warren Buffett’s fortune is going directly to those in need appeared first on PBS NewsHour.