Fund drive ends up short Armiger firefighters perplexed by sharp decline in donations

Engine payment overdue

Pasadena department raises $40,000 less than usual

January 02, 1998|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

At this annual time of giving, the Armiger Volunteer Fire Department in Pasadena is wondering why so few gave.

The department, Engine Company 30 on Mountain Road, brought in $40,000 less than usual during its annual fall fund drive, perplexing them, county officials and firefighters from other departments.

The department mailed the same pamphlets and letters it has for the past four years. But this time only 515 of the 9,983 people they contacted sent donations.

In years past, the mailing has brought in almost $50,000. This year, $11,253 came in, not even enough to cover the cost of sending out the pamphlets.

One resident wrote, "I make my donation when I pay my county taxes." County money does not pay for volunteer squads.

Without donations, fire officials have no idea how they will pay the $31,132 annual engine payment that was due last month.

"We're not out here buying TVs and stereos," said Chief William Rogers. "All the money we make goes to buying and paying for equipment that we put on the street."

The company sent out reminder notices and even donned Santa suits to ride around neighborhoods, hoping for more donations.

With the economy healthy and the 47 volunteers unable to remember any major conflicts or gaffes, they are wondering why donations fell off so much.

"It's really discouraging," said company President John Long. "It's like, why are we out here every day, every week wasting our time trying to help the community volunteering and you ask people for a little help and they ignore you."

Both neighboring companies, the Earleigh Heights and Riviera Beach fire departments, had no trouble raising more than $50,000 each. Earleigh Heights brought in several thousand more than it did the previous year.

Suggestions from other departments have come rolling in: Write a better letter explaining who the volunteers are and why they need money; do more outreach; show up at children's birthday parties; enclose a picture of the truck or the company with the request for donations.

"I really can't think of any other instance when something like this has happened," said Chief John Scholz, county fire spokesman. "It's really shocking."

County residents aren't stingy. In 1995, the latest year for which figures are available, they deducted $159 million in charitable donations.

According to the secretary of state's office, 40 percent of such donations are made in the last six weeks of the year.

The office has seen no unusual trends in giving this year that might suggest, for example, that people donated to the Diana Memorial Fund rather than their local fire departments, spokesman John White said. "This isn't typical at all," he said.

"We always encourage people to donate locally, and many of the calls we receive are from people asking about their local fire departments."

Pub Date: 1/02/98

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