Charity burned out of home finds itself on receiving end

June 30, 2007|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,Sun Reporter

Almost a month ago, Casey Baynes was running her charity for critically ill children from a parking lot.

A June 3 fire destroyed the Violetville warehouse that served as headquarters for the Casey Cares Foundation, leaving Baynes and her volunteers without a computer or a desk to put it on. They didn't have gifts for the children in the hospital wards or the list of donors they could call to replenish the supply.

Turns out, they didn't need to call.

Help started arriving while firefighters were still battling the six-alarm blaze.

"I couldn't believe it," said Baynes. "A man who we'd just sent tickets to the monster truck show for his son showed up at midnight to say, `How can I help you?' ... He saw what happened and decided he needed to get dressed and come over. That is amazing."

Another family whose children were helped by the Casey Cares Foundation set up a lemonade stand in their Brooklyn Park neighborhood, Baynes said. They sent the charity the proceeds - more than $750.

The nonprofit organization has also received donated computers and other office supplies, in addition to new gifts for the sick children and their families. Another donor gave the foundation a ballroom rental at a hotel to hold a fundraiser last week, where it raised more than $10,000.

"Everyone's trying to help us now, which isn't how it's supposed to be. We were created to help others," said Pam Goode, who handles public relations and promotion for the foundation.

With an annual budget of $300,000 and a staff of a dozen people - most of them volunteers, including Baynes - the foundation delivers gifts to sick children on their birthdays and arranges day trips, dinners out and weekend getaways for them with their families.

The organization serves more than 3,000 children, most of whom are referred by hospital social workers, Baynes said. The Casey Cares Foundation continues to deliver gifts and other surprises even after the children are in remission, or to their families after their deaths.

"It's not a one-shot deal," Baynes said. "A year later, they still need a taste of normalcy-a trip to the beach or to an Orioles game."

Baynes had been running the charity from the headquarters of her family's trucking and warehouse company, Wollenweber's Trucking and Warehousing. Fire officials said that an electrical malfunction caused the fire that left the building in ashes.

Her brother who is running the fourth-generation business plans to rebuild, Baynes said.

In the meantime, the foundation has a new home.

Last week, Baynes and her staff moved into a new office, provided rent-free by a local property development and management company whose employees had heard about the charity's loss.

Jerry Wit, senior vice president at St. John Properties, based in Woodlawn, said he and his employees were touched by Baynes' passion and her mission.

"Most of the time, when you ask someone how they became involved with a charity, they say, `Oh, I have a child or a mother ... ' or some other personal connection with a disease," Wit said. "I had expected Casey to have a story like that."

Baynes, though, has three healthy children. When the Ellicott City woman created the foundation in 2000, she said she was looking for a way to provide a service not already being offered by larger foundations.

It may be several weeks - or months - before operations run smoothly again, Baynes said. But, she added, the important part is "we haven't had to deny the request of any child."

laura.barnhardt@baltsun.com

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