Use caution in this season of thanks, giving


Article

In last few months, Canyon Lake residents entering the community at the Main Gate have seen different groups of people, on different days, holding signs saying, "Paige is 11 years old, fighting cancer, please donate." The signs have a picture of an adorable little girl with an innocent smile. The people holding the signs have jugs nearby where they deposit the money collected from generous people driving past them.

Two months ago, the first time The Friday Flyer staff witnessed this, they approached one of the sign-holders, asking if the young girl lived locally. The Friday Flyer likes to assist local families in in need by publicizing official fundraising efforts.

The young man holding the sign responded by saying, "It's my cousin ? she lives in the next town over." Trying to get more information, the reporter asked who to contact. The young man responded, "I can't talk about it," and walked away. A business card was offered to the young man to have someone call. No call was received.

Over the next few weeks, residents reported seeing different groups of people holding the same signs, collecting handfuls of money in the surrounding cities.

On Wednesday, November 14, a different group appeared with the same signs, collecting money from drivers stopped at Canyon Lake Dr. South and Railroad Canyon Rd. This time, The Friday Flyer took pictures.

Over 72 responses were posted ? people who wondered if it was a real story, people who gave money, people who asked the sign-holders questions and were given responses that made them doubt.

One person said she saw the same people in Menifee. She tried to look up the story and found a girl named Paige who did have cancer, was now 16 years old and was raising funds for the Make-a-Wish foundation. After pursuing the link, The Friday Flyer learned that Paige was not the girl pictured on the sign and actually lived in Canada.

Another Facebook reader posted a link to a fundraiser for a Paige in the local area. Through that link, The Friday Flyer was able to get in contact with a music school in the San Jacinto area raising funds for a girl named Paige. The music director confirmed the picture The Friday Flyer posted was the Paige they were raising money for ? an 11-year-old who currently lives with her grandmother in Beaumont. The director said he would have the grandmother call.

Within 20 minutes, Monette Simon Holmes contacted The Friday Flyer. She explained she was the grandmother of the young girl and that she had temporary custody. She said Paige was diagnosed in April 2012 with a rare bone cancer inside her skull known as Chordoma, but after surgeries and chemotherapy, they had just received news she is cancer free.

When questioned about the people holding signs and asking for money to help Paige, Monette said, "It's making me sick. Not one dime of that money is going to Paige."

She explained that she knew it was happening and would not give names, but said it was relatives collecting the money and using Paige's illness to support their drug habits.

"At one time I was so furious I went to the corner they were at and tore the signs out of their hands," she said. "That didn't stop them ? they went elsewhere."

Monette explains that since she is currently fighting for custody of Paige, she cannot risk having any altercations or unhealthy confrontations with the group. She has contacted police and she doesn't know what else to do.

"Please, please, please tell people not to give to them," she said, "It breaks my heart and Paige has not received any support from them. The support we have received has been from non-profit organizations."

After this conversation, The Friday Flyer posted the information on Facebook, providing a legitimate link for assisting with Paige's medical expenses (www.gofundme.com/for-paije-my-grandbaby).

A day after the post, November 15, people responded that the sign-holders were back in front of Pepe's Restaurant. They called the Sheriff's Department. Chief John Hill reported the panhandlers had been observed by officers, who issued a verbal warning. He says he is supportive of the department conducting further investigation on the matter to see if they can identify the persons involved.

Residents who have already donated money expressed their frustration, making comments like, "I was wondering about that! I suspected foul play, but felt guilty for assuming the worst."

Monette understands the sign-holders are pulling heartstrings for money. "It's a beautiful little girl on that poster. Who would possibly be so cruel to use her for their own selfish needs? Just sick people," she said.

With the holidays arriving, many people cherish the feeling of giving, especially to those who are struggling. It is recommended by many non-profit organizations and police departments to only give donations to reputable organizations that have proper documentation, websites or are known by trustworthy friends or family.

Canyon Lakers are known to be generous when helping individuals or families in need. Clubs and organizations that help those in our community are listed in the Canyon Lake Directory. Non-profit organizations like H.O.P.E, American Cancer Society, Goodwill, or even school booster clubs, will and should provide a tax ID number for donations.