Mission questioned

NASHUA – With an old building to fix up, two dozen turkeys to cook by Sunday, and a mission to establish, the Rev. David Blacksmith has a lot on his mind.

Add one more thing to the list: The state says he has broken the law.

“You cannot solicit donations in the state of New Hampshire without being registered here,” said Chris Gauntt of the Charitable Trust Division of the attorney general’s office.

The office, which oversees all charities in the state, issued a “consumer alert” Friday, cautioning people about donating to the Southern New Hampshire Rescue Mission.

Since Nov. 1, the group has been fixing up an old building at 40 Chestnut St. to create a mission serving the homeless. It will kick things off with a free Thanksgiving dinner for the needy on Sunday.

Gauntt said the Charitable Trust Division was concerned because the mission isn’t registered with the state, and also because officials think donations sent to a Nashua post office box were being forwarded to a person in Irving, Texas.

Blacksmith said that is a mistake. The Texas address, he said, belongs to the owner of the condominium that he and his family rent on Fenwick Street.

“He (the landlord) has nothing to do with the mission,” Blacksmith said, adding that the only money sent there has been his personal rent. The landlord could not be reached by telephone Friday.

“The (donation) money’s here, in the Bank of New Hampshire,” Blacksmith said.

Blacksmith said about 400 donors have given roughly $11,000 toward the mission, which is part of the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, a nondenominational group that runs missions for the homeless throughout the country. The Nashua mission is the group’s first in New Hampshire.

“I do know David (Blacksmith). He ran a mission for us in Las Vegas,” said Phil Rydman, director of communications for the association, in a telephone interview from its headquarters in Kansas City, Mo. “I think he’s doing a fine job.”

The Rev. Paul Berube of Grace Fellowship Church is one of several Nashua pastors who has dealt with Blacksmith since he moved here in May.“I’m very confident these guys are straight shooters,” he said of the mission. “(Blacksmith) has gone out to where there are camps of homeless, people sleeping in the woods.

“Everything I know about the national association, as well as the Albany (New York) and Springfield (Mass.) centers is top-notch. I think it will be a great addition to the city,” Berube said.

Blacksmith said the mission has a six-month lease on a two-story brick building at 40 Chestnut St., which it hopes to buy.

The building has been vacant for some time, but is sometimes called the Canadian Club after a former user. The building was in the news two years ago when it was proposed as a spot for a halfway house for released federal prisoners. The city turned down the idea as unsuitable for a residential area.

Blacksmith and volunteers from local churches have been cleaning up the building in preparation for a free Thanksgiving dinner this Sunday from 3-5 p.m. The meal is part of the fifth annual Great Thanksgiving Banquet, put on at locations throughout the country by the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions.

“I have 24 turkeys in my walk-in (freezer) for it,” said Laurie Chouinard of Only Catering on Franklin Street, who volunteered to prepare the food after hearing of the dinner through Grace Fellowship Church. “They (the mission) brought us the food and we’re doing the preparing.”

“I’m clueless about how many (people) will show,” Blacksmith said. “We hope we’ll have 200.”

As for the state, Blacksmith said somebody at the Charitable Trust Division told him the mission could wait for an Internal Revenue Service ruling on whether it is legally considered a church before it had to decide about registering with the state.

Gauntt, however, said this is not true, and added that nobody in the four-person office remembers talking to Blacksmith.

The church designation is important because churches do not have to register with the Charitable Trust Division, whereas religious organizations do. The difference depends on a number of specifications in IRS regulations, Gauntt said.

As an example, she noted that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has to register with New Hampshire in order to solicit donations because the IRS doesn’t consider it a church.

Gauntt said her office released Friday’s alert about the mission after receiving questions from several people in Nashua and Concord who had received unsolicited requests for money in the mail.