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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Finding Those Needing a Caring Moscow Heart

Caring Heart's motto is a simple one. Executive director Tatyana Mamontova puts it this way: "We help all those who ask for our help."

Living up to such a lofty mission statement, however, is far from easy, especially in a nation as vast and -- in many regions -- as poor as Russia.

In practice, the charity's efforts are mainly directed toward assisting individuals who call asking for help as well as toward organizing massive clothing donations to larger groups.

"If someone calls us with a specific need, we do everything we can to fulfill it," Mamontova said.

The Russian-based charity was founded by a small group of business leaders and professionals who were dismayed at the relatively small number of charities working in the country.

Though some of the largest foreign philanthropies are active in Russia, many others have appeared wary of getting involved here.

As Caring Heart points out, the volume of humanitarian aid to many smaller countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States is some four times greater than that to Russia.

"Four, five years ago, there was a big problem because foreign aid was not always getting to the people who needed it," Mamontova said. "It would be shipped, then disappear. Naturally, a lot of people didn't want to help."

Caring Heart has worked hard to create a transparent local charity, and the organization prides itself on documenting that every piece of clothing or parcel of food or medicine gets to its intended recipient.

It has also targeted local businesses interested in projecting a positive public image and convinced them to participate in charity drives.

Caring Heart co-founder and president Alexander Krasnokutsky's affiliation with No. 2 oil firm Yukos, where he is adviser for strategic projects, has also helped the organization cement cooperative campaigns with companies.

A recent drive to distribute second-hand clothes to more than 3,000 people in the Krasnodar region was funded by a $30,000 grant from Yukos.

"Companies in Russia today want to prove that they care, so that has helped us," Mamontova said.

That spirit has also started to catch on among ordinary Russians, she said.

"People are finally realizing that they have to help their fellow citizens," said Mamontova, who previously worked at a pharmaceutical firm and a brokerage before leaving to co-found Caring Heart. "If we don't help them, we are courting catastrophe."

The focus of operations has become delivering second-hand clothes and household goods to anyone in need, from private individuals to orphanages and pensioners.

Twice weekly, volunteers visit residential areas to collect used clothes that are subsequently disinfected and distributed throughout the country.

The organization has also arranged legal services for the poor and delivered food and medical supplies in tandem with businesses and corporate donors.

The head office is in Moscow, but attempts are being made to expand to the regions, where need is greater.

"Early on, we called up a Moscow orphanage, told them we had some second-hand clothes and shoes for them," Mamontova said. "When our volunteers arrived, the director took one look at the clothes and sniffed, 'Oh no, we don't need these. We only need new clothes.'"

Mamontova was puzzled, but when she visited, things became clearer: Each child had a television set and VCR in his room.

"That's when I realized that Moscow is probably not the only area of Russia we should focus on," she said.

Still, the charity is aware of certain problems that are particularly acute in the big cities, especially concerning homeless children.

And while Mamontova is glad to hear top officials, starting with President Vladimir Putin, are calling attention to the problem, she only smiles at suggestions in the media that officials have made a dent in the problem by sweeping street children out of train stations and into city shelters.

"These kids don't care about what the president says, and most have no intention of staying in a shelter," she said.

One thing the government should consider, she says, is a more developed system of tax breaks for companies that donate to charity. Certain deductions that did exist were scrapped after Russia adopted a flat income tax rate last year.

"Everyone was pleased that the government lowered taxes, but it actually went backward as far as tax deductions are concerned."

For more information, call Caring Heart at 127-6954, send an e-mail to info@caringheart.ru or visit the web site at www.caringheart.ru