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"Father Dollar Bill" Dies, L.A. Priest Handed Out Thousands To Needy

On Skid Row with Father Dollar Bill, Rev. Maurice Chase

A priest known for his unusual method for charitable giving has died in Los Angeles. Father Maurice Chase, also known as Father Dollar Bill, passed away Sunday evening at home. Chase, a Roman Catholic priest, visited L.A.'s Skid Row every Sunday to hand out single dollar bills to needy people, and, on holidays, upped the denomination to 20 or even 100 dollar bills depending on what people needed.

He'd been giving away cash for more than 30 years, according to the Los Angeles Times. Although he preached in the city every Sunday, he "was a fixture on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles on holidays such as Easter and Thanksgiving. The homeless and poor would line up for blocks..."

Fr. Chase spoke with NPR's Jacob Soboroff on Easter Sunday, 2009, about his giving habits, and you can watch their conversation above as Chase gives away $2,000. Jacob asked Chase about the wisdom of just giving money to people, since it could be used to buy food or drugs. Chase didn't care. He said what mattered was letting people know they weren't invisible and that they were loved by God. He wasn't afraid of potential trouble. Still, an L.A. police officer quietly stood nearby in case of problems.

He told the Los Angeles Daily News he could see the effects of the economic downturn: "We see more couples, more families," Chase said. "The recession has had an impact. We have to deal with it. The church said we must have a preferential option for the poor."

A dollar may not seem like much, but another video about Chase by Alex Hammond and Eric Lahey shows a recipient who ticks off all the things a dollar can buy: a burger, a phone call home, a bus ride out of Skid Row.

Fr. Chase was a former assistant to the president of Loyola Marymount University. The Times says he helped fund his charity with donations from Bob Newhart, Delores Hope and other celebrities. Funeral details haven't been announced.

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