Herald Stories Lead to Reader Action

In recent years, The Boston Herald has printed several articles dealing with issues of homelessness, poverty and social justice. Two of these articles were directly responsible for citizens in the community stepping forward to assist the subjects of the article.

The first story was written by writers Gayle Fee and Laura Raposa as part of the “Inside Track” section of the Herald. The article was titled “Buddy can you spare a dime for Tom Brady?” and was printed on July 10th, 2009. The story is about a 61-year-old man from Malden, Massachusetts named Dennis Paiva. According to the Herald’s article, Paiva is an ex-convict who struggled to find work in the five years since his release. To make a living, Paiva would take odd jobs, as well as travel around various parts of Boston looking for pieces of scrap metal in dumpsters and alleyways. He liked to look in the higher-end neighborhoods as this is where he would find higher quality metal. One night, he took what he thought were two long, discarded metal containers from a trash receptacle in an alleyway of a ritzy Back Bay neighborhood. The next day he sold the metal at a scrap yard for $450. What he didn’t know, was that the metal pieces were in fact expensive flower pots that belonged to New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Paiva was caught on security film and despite his repeated claims that it was an accident and that the flower pots were in the trash, he was eventually charged with larceny and ordered by a judge to pay $4,000 restitution to Brady.

The Herald’s article continued to point out that weeks after the charges, he suffered a major brain aneurysm, leaving him in the hospital. The aneurysm also caused permanent damage to his vision and balance; leaving him unable to work. His only option for a living was panhandling. On top of getting money to eat by begging, Paiva also owed Tom Brady a $333 monthly payment until the $4,000 restitution was repaid.

Soon after this article was printed, a good Samaritan in the community reached out and paid for the money Paiva owed to Brady, alleviating the man of his dire situation. According to Gayle Fee, one of the co-authors of the article, and the “Inside Track” column, this wasn’t a typical story for her section of the paper, which is focused upon celebrities’ news and gossip. However, this particular story caught their eye.

“Here you have a guy who was homeless, begging, using scrap metal to make a living, and suddenly finds himself being persecuted for accidentally taking flower pots from a star athlete making millions of dollars a year,” said Fee. ““We don’t typically cover stories like this. We are a celebrity news column. But this article and the situation it described definitely caught our attention,” said Fee.

The Boston Herald has a history of publishing stories like this that aim to alleviate difficult situations of underprivileged citizens within the Boston community.

“I think the Herald is the underdog newspaper, so as a whole, I think we sympathize with the underdog. In this case, Dennis Paiva is the clear underdog,” said Fee. “I think the Herald definitely looks to help out people like this. As the old saying goes, ‘comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.’”

On July 2nd 2010 another story was printed in the Herald titled “Late on storage unit payments, woman could lose her belongings.” The article was written by Herald writer Jessica Heslam.

“The story came in as a tip, and when we first looked at it, it just seemed like this was a woman who could not catch a break,” said Heslam.

According to Heslam’s story, Jeanette Spencer, an elderly woman from Boston who had been homeless for around a year after being evicted from the Colombia Point Projects. After this she stayed in a rehab center followed by a series of different family members. During this time, social security had begun to take money out of her welfare checks. Finally, after this difficult year, Spencer was finally set to move in to her own low-income housing apartment in Roxbury. But the storage facility where she had kept her belongings during her homeless period refused to give her things back until she paid her late storage fees, which amounted to over $650 dollars. Spencer was allotted just a short period of time to do so or her lifelong belongings would be sold in an auction.

“She had belongings she had collected her whole life that she was going to lose if someone didn’t help her out,” said Heslam speaking about Spencer’s problematic financial situation. “This was a good woman who was down on her luck and simply needed some help.”

For Spencer, the decision by Heslam and the Herald to run her story in the paper would be a blessing. Just days after the article was published, Ronnie Martin, a construction contractor from Natick came forward and gladly picked up the tab for Spencer’s late fees at the storage company. Once again, a Herald article had quickly resulted in the act of a Good Samaritan stepping up and aiding the struggling subject of the article.

“I think Jeanette’s story resonated with a lot of people. I think a lot of people felt like they could relate to her. She was a victim of difficult economic times and I think you would be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t feel compassion for her,” said Heslam.

Heslam also stated that she believed stories like these are a priority, and that in this specific instance the Herald was in a position to do something.

“Whenever you see anyone in a situation like the one Jeanette Spencer was in, it immediately becomes a priority. She was going to lose all of her life long possessions, things that were very valuable to her. Anyone who saw what was going on here would say ‘Wow, this woman needs help.’ We felt we were in a position to help, so we did.”

(Correction: The print version of this article mistakenly referred to Gayle Fee and Laura Raposa as “Globe writers.” This was an editorial mistake, both Fee and Raposa write for the Herald)






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