Elves told to leave four-way stop

After collecting donations at the main intersection in town for four winters, the Island Elves have gotten the boot: They’ve been told by law enforcement they can no longer conduct their fundraiser in the road.

On Saturday morning, as volunteer elves collected money for the second weekend this year, two King County sheriff’s deputies arrived at the intersection and informed the volunteers that their fundraiser violates a state law that prohibits soliciting business in the street.

Head elf Bernie O’Malley talked with the deputies and complied with their request, but was unhappy with the turn of events.

“It’s very bad for (Vashon) Youth & Family Services,” he said. “They’ll lose a lot of money that we won’t be able to collect for them. I feel very bad about that.”

For the past three years, the volunteers — dressed in bright costumes and ringing bells — have collected nearly $20,000 in donations each holiday season for the Vashon Maury Community Food Bank. This year the the elves decided to collect funds for VYFS and expected to raise about the same amount.

O’Malley said the deputies were polite and even apologetic to the volunteers and told them there had been some complaints. The move came the same week that The Beachcomber featured a front page story on the elves’ collection efforts.

“We had no advanced warning, no phone call or letter,” O’Malley said of the incident. “We don’t know why this moment was chosen.”

The law the deputies referred to, RCW 46.61.255(4), states, “No person shall stand in a roadway for the purpose of soliciting employment or business from the occupant of any vehicle.”

Sgt. Cindi West, a King County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson, said that Vashon deputies received at least one complaint about the elves. They called their supervisor and were told by the supervisor that the volunteers were breaking the law and had to leave.

O’Malley, however, believes the elves should be an exception to the law, since they are collecting funds for a charity and not a business.

“We don’t work for anybody, other than the community good,” he said. “As I said, it’s a lawyers’ argument.”

However, O’Malley said, so far there’s been no discussion of trying to appeal the decision. He said he wouldn’t even know whom to contact about the situation.

“I don’t know what else to do,” O’Malley said. “I can’t change the law, and I’m not going to disobey the law. … They made their decision.”

Tag Gornall, another head elf, agreed, saying he didn’t fully understand the legal basis for banning the volunteers from the intersection, but he planned to follow the order.

“Elves are not confrontational people,” he said.

O’Malley noted that in the past the elves have tried to collect money from cars from the sidewalk. But it didn’t bring in as much money, he said, and was less safe. This year, he noted, the elves tried to make their fundraiser even safer by adding orange cones and brighter signs.

“Doing it the way we were doing it — … with safety cones and brightly dressed — was safe,” O’Malley said. “We had no incidents.”

O’Malley and Gornall said the Island Elves may still collect donations on Dec. 16 and 17 — the last weekend they were scheduled to do so — but at a different location.

“We would like to and hope to continue to do things for Youth & Family Services,” Gornall said. “In what area and how has not been sorted out yet.”


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