Volunteer elves bring in less after fundraising disruption

After being kicked out of the main intersection by the sheriff’s department and scrambling to devise a new plan, the Island Elves raised $12,000 for Vashon Youth & Family Services in December, about 40 percent less than they raised for a nonprofit in years past.

Head Elf Bernie O’Malley said he believes the elves didn’t reach their full fundraising potential this winter in part because they could only collect for five days at the intersection instead of the planned eight. In addition, he said, their second plan, having cars pull into designated parking spots to donate, wasn’t as successful as collecting cash from the middle of the road.

After collecting money in the main intersection on three different days this winter, the elves were told by sheriff’s deputies in early December that according to state law they couldn’t conduct their fundraiser in the road. They had performed the same fundraiser for the food bank for the past three years.

An effort led by Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Debi Richards got the elves back on the street for two more days in late December. They asked drivers to pull to the side of the road into “Candy Cane Lanes” to give money.

O’Malley said he was glad they found a solution and still raised quite a bit for VYFS, but they likely won’t do the Candy Cane Lanes again next year. Not only did Islanders donate less using the lanes, but O’Malley believes they created more of a safety hazard than their previous approach.

“Take it from me. I’m all about safety, and it was not safe,” O’Malley said.

One positive result of the change, O’Malley noted, was that several VYFS board members and staffers joined the elves to finish the fundraiser.

“As a result of the crisis, it threw them out on the street,” O’Malley said. “To me that was fantastic.”

In previous years, the fundraiser garnered as much as $20,000 for Vashon Maury Community Food Bank. But VYFS director Ken Maaz, who volunteered as an elf from the beginning of the fundraiser, said his agency was thrilled to receive $12,000 from the Island Elves.

He said the donation helped the organization, which had to dip into its reserves last year, to cover its increased need around the holidays; much of it will go to the agency’s  financial assistance programs in 2012.

“Very seldom do we get that kind of donation,” Maaz said. “It was encouraging, and we’re very grateful for it.”

O’Malley and Maaz also said they hoped the fundraiser raised VYFS’s profile on Vashon.

“We’re hoping that in addition to the money the elves picked up, that that visiblity will turn into more donations,” O’Malley said.

As for the Island Elves, O’Malley said they will rethink their approach next winter. They’re still unsure what charity they will support or how they’ll run their fundraiser.

“I hope there is a third way (of collecting money), but we don’t know what it is,” he said.


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