GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - It's the season of giving, but when it comes to charities, many people are hesitant because they're not sure where their money is going.
A new website hopes to change that -- and it's already helping one West Michigan family in need.
"If it was just me, I wouldn't worry about Christmas, but because I have a son it means a lot,"said single mother Toni Robbins of Battle Creek.
Robbins's 6-year-old son has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and she also has a learning disability.
Robbins receives assistance for her condition, but after rent and bills, there's little left over -- leaving Robbins feeling desperate.
"I've looked for help in many different ways and couldn't find help," said Robbins.
Then a friend told Robbins about givelocally.net. The website is a new concept in charity.
Potential recipients like Robbins share their stories and donors are able to choose who they want to help. Using the donations -- or "gives," as they're called -- the organization helps with the recipient's specific need through gift cards or paying directly to the source. The program does not give cash directly to recipients.
"If we didn't have the rent money to pay for it and we had it on their site, then he would send it directly to my landlord," explained Robbins.
Givelocally.net was started by entrepreneur Brad Newman and his business partner Bo Young, son of former U.S. Ambassador and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young.
The site was set up as a for-profit business -- 18 cents of every dollar donated goes to an intensive screening process in which each recipient is thoroughly vetted before their story is posted.
"So we speak to doctors, teachers, guidance councilors, principals, landlords," Young explained. "We talk to utility companies. We make sure that the people are who they say they are and that their need is real."
Young said this eases the minds of donors.
Because givelocally.net is a "for profit" business, donations are not tax deductible.
In the past six months, nearly 900 people have donated tens of thousands of dollars through givelocally.net to people whose need or situation resonates with them personally.
Robbins alone has received nearly $400-worth of donations so far.
"When I got approved real quick it made me feel happy, that somebody is out there to help us," said Robbins.
We get a brief break from the "lake-effect machine" Friday.
A few flurries occurred Thursday night. Lows held in the teens and the wind relaxed to the 5 to 10 mph range, with 20s at the Lake Michigan.
On Thursday, the medical examiner's office said CMU student Kelly Markatos died as a result of the eating disorder bulimia.