Harvard Square turns over a new Leaf

NEWLEAFTrackable charity, welcome to the 21st century.

Fifteen tablets are being installed at local stores in Harvard Square with the sole purpose of giving care to the area’s homeless. Participating stores include Black Ink, Brattle Square Florist, Concepts, Curious George, Market in the Square, Tistik and The Tannery

If you don’t have any change on you, no problem. With these tablets, you can use your credit card to make food, shelter or clothing donations to those in need, all between $1 and $100. The donations will benefit several different homeless organizations in Cambridge.

The tablets are a Leaf Holdings Inc. product. Leaf is a start-up from Cambridge that features tablets for businesses. However, they found in the Harvard Square Business Association (HSBA) a way to give back to the community, too.

Denise Jillson, the executive director of the HSBA, had tried for years to find a way to help the homeless community in the area. In fact, she says, Harvard Square residents ask her to “not shoo” homeless away, but rather aid them. Well, then.

At first, there was the idea of placing some sort of pot somewhere so people could make donations, but that wouldn’t do. Jillson explains that “anybody could just walk off with the container and all would be lost.” The HSBA also made brochures addressing the issue, but they seemed to be ineffective.

But then, Leaf Holdings Inc. walked in the door. At first, they were introducing their tablet for business – a way to replace the old cash registers with new technology. It all changed when they mentioned they would like to assist in any sort of charitable service. According to Jillson, “the dots connected.”

Jillson told Scout that this new project is a way to make sure donations to the homeless go to the right places. She says the HSBA tries to discourage people “from putting money in the [homeless’] cup,” adding that 85 percent of that money goes to inappropriate behavior, like drugs and alcohol.

Two and a half weeks ago, the tablets were installed at seven locations and are bringing some very positive results, so far. Jillson tells Scout they have been collected $3,000 so far and adds that they don’t have any specific goal, but are rather just taking “whatever comes.”

Cantabrigians can expect to see eight more tablets in the upcoming months.

One of the organizations that will benefit from this project is Ayala Livny’s Youth on Fire, which was featured in Scout Cambridge this month.

However, she told the Globe that, even if she loves the project, there is one minor setback: the end of interaction between the general public and the homeless.

“Our members often say the hardest thing about being homeless is the sense of being invisible. People walk by you, pretend you don’t exist,” she said. “But so many will tell you, you don’t have to give us money. But have a conversation, look us in the eye, say have a nice day. There’s power and dignity in that.”

Jillson agrees that the end of these interactions is a concern, but says the positives outshine the negatives. In her opinion, Cantabrigians are charitable, but not always willing to give out physical cash. Herself included.

“Just this morning, as I was walking to work, a man approached me and asked for money,” she explains. I told him I wouldn’t give him money, but I would pay him breakfast.”

Jillson and the man then proceeded to the nearest store to buy the man’s breakfast, despite the man’s promises that he was “clean and dry.”

“That’s not untypical of people in Harvard Square,” she adds.

Leaf Holdings Inc. has not only welcomed charity to the 21st century, but also allowed people to make sure their money goes to reputable causes. Next time you see a tablet in a Harvard Square shop, don’t hesitate to donate. It will be worth it. –Lucas Parolin