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Disney tickets brought 'em out, but cleanup was a hit

After I spent a couple of hours walking down Shoal Line Boulevard Saturday morning, pulling old bottles and cans out of roadside ditches, I talked to two other members of my volunteer cleanup crew.

They told me the expected stuff about wanting to help out, loving the environment and hating to think of wildlife foraging among ugly and potentially dangerous trash such as fishing line and plastic bags.

They also said, sounding like a Super Bowl-winning quarterback from back when Disney used to pay people to deliver this line, that they were going to Disney World.

This threw me off because when I volunteer, I'm usually the selfish one. I can get a column out of it. I'm getting paid, basically.

But at last week's cleanup of coastal parks put on by a Pasco County organization, Make Mine Bluegreen, I had plenty of company: about 90 percent of the 166 volunteers had signed up through a promotion called Give a Day, Get a Disney Day.

Starting Jan. 1, the company offered 1 million passes to Disney World or Disneyland in California to anyone willing to donate a day of labor to a designated charity. All the spaces were snapped up within nine weeks, said company spokeswoman Kathleen Phihoda.

I knew about this but didn't realize it was causing such a stampede of willing workers until I witnessed it Saturday. I heard more of the same when I called a couple of other organizations.

Earlier this year, the Hernando County YMCA offered 30 Disney days to anyone who took on maintenance jobs such as clearing weeds from the fitness trail, and 15 more days for helpers at the Y's child care program. As soon as the announcement appeared on its website, the office was flooded with calls.

And at the Chinsegut Nature Center, north of Brooksville, 300 people signed up to get a Disney day in return for jobs such as clearing away invasive plants, said Becky Brown, volunteer coordinator.

But here's my question: If volunteers receive something as valuable as admission to Disney World, often for just a couple of hours of labor, are they still volunteers?

"It's sad to say, but you could tell there were certain people whose only concern was getting a ticket,'' said Princess Obriot, founder of Bluegreen.

Also, if Disney is using the promotion to get people to spend money in their parks and maybe stay at their pricey hotels, is this really such a generous deal?

And here's what I decided: Who cares?

People who get a taste of volunteering often want to do it again, Brown said, and a lot of adults who gave a day brought along their kids — impressionable kids forming lifelong habits.

Also, listen to Obriot, who said Disney's offer drew workers from all over the Tampa Bay area. They collected 1.7 tons of trash, most of it in lightweight items, meaning they picked up countless aluminum cans, plastic bottles and cigarette butts in one of the most thorough coastal cleanups in years.

"We could not have had a successful event in Hernando without'' the Disney promotion, Obriot said.

Reporters like to make fun of public relations people and their use of the phrase, "win-win,'' and, sure enough Phihoda delivered it as though on cue.

But this time, I didn't laugh.

Disney tickets brought 'em out, but cleanup was a hit 04/27/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 27, 2010 8:20pm]
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