MANCHESTER-BY-THE-SEA — Ralph Bates doesn’t think life is too complicated. He’s never going to make anyone’s list of the richest people in Massachusetts and describes himself as just another guy who made a few bucks with a couple of good investments.
Bates, 81, a lifelong bachelor, read a July 19 Globe North article about River House, the homeless shelter in Beverly that had closed for the spring and summer after it ran out of money. The article described an anonymous donor who had offered a matching grant of $75,000 to the shelter. Bates called the shelter, offered $75,000 to match the grant, and put up another $25,000 toward a new matching grant.
“I’ve got money and I’ve got to do something with it. I can’t take it with me when I go,” said Bates, who likes to support organizations that have low administrative overheads. Two years ago, he gave $300,000 to the ALS Association, and he also donated $26,000 to the Action Emergency Shelter in Gloucester. In 2008, he donated $1 million to help build a community center in New Brunswick, Canada.
“We’re so grateful for his generosity and for him encouraging to donate by offering a $25,000 challenge grant,” said Anne Strong, River House’s development director. Last week, Strong handed Bates two yellow Adirondack chairs built by former shelter residents as gifts for the Manchester man, and Bates, in turn, handed Strong a check for $100,000.
In May, River House was forced to close after its funding went dry. The nonprofit then went through an administrative change, with Harborlight Community Partners taking over the shelter’s management. In July, River House was awarded a $200,000 state grant, with the city of Beverly also contributing $20,000.
With other private donations, such as the grant from Bates, the shelter was able to renovate its two-story building, adding new appliances and beds for 22 nightly guests. On Oct. 1, the shelter will reopen with an expanded staff of two caseworkers, who will create action plans for each guest with the goal of getting them work, health care, and permanent housing.
With a $350,000 annual budget, River House is still raising money for other programs it hopes to start. One of its main goals is to purchase a van to provide transportation for its guests to and from jobs and medical appointments. In the meantime, River House will provide taxi and train vouchers to guests, and will also supply bikes the shelter already owns.
Bates grew up in Belmont and has lived in Manchester-by-the-Sea for about 20 years. Over that time, he has served in the National Guard and worked as an accountant’s assistant, newspaper reporter, and glass salesman. For a couple of decades, he owned the Greater Boston House Buyer’s Guide. He also invested in real estate, purchasing apartments in Arlington. This year, he sold the apartments and is now considering other donations.
Bates says donating money to good causes just makes common sense. “It’s the simplest thing to do, helping people,” he said. “I would like to spend my last penny.”