Charities at Chasco felt sting of weather, economy

Mark Brown cooks at the 2004 Sertoma barbecue. It’s usually a big moneymaker, but sales were down this year, and some of the proceeds were used to cover the cost of the group’s raffle.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times (2004)

Mark Brown cooks at the 2004 Sertoma barbecue. It’s usually a big moneymaker, but sales were down this year, and some of the proceeds were used to cover the cost of the group’s raffle.

NEW PORT RICHEY — Every year, a vacation give-away raffle during Chasco Fiesta makes thousands of dollars to benefit a group that helps children with hearing problems.

Every year, that is, but this one.

Sertoma Speech and Hearing Foundation's raffle sales — $20 per ticket or $100 for seven tickets — totaled about $3,000, nearly half as much as in years past, said executive director Craig McCart. And once the group covered all its costs, the raffle actually lost money.

"There's a certain number of people you can go to for a hundred dollars," said McCart. "This year they're looking at you like, 'I don't have a hundred dollars.' "

Blame it on the economy and, even, on the rain: Chasco Fiesta, the annual two-week long event that ended April 6, wasn't the money-maker that it has been in the past.

Last year, Chasco generated well over $300,000 for 30 charities and nonprofit groups. The organizations make money from the events or sales they sponsor.

Though not all of the final figures are in, organizers believe that figure is down 30 percent, said Joe Alpine, president of West Pasco Chamber of Commerce, which puts on the festival.

The Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired and Blind, for instance, counts on the festival's Coronation Ball as one of its two main fundraisers each year.

Typically, the organization makes more than $45,000 through ticket sales, corporate sponsors and a silent auction, said Charkay Suiters, resource development director with the Lighthouse.

Proceeds were about 20 percent lower this year, she said.

"Everybody is cutting back," she said. What she kept hearing from Chasco regulars: "We just can't afford it" and "We're all tapped out."

In addition to the raffle, the Sertoma organization gets about 70 percent of the proceeds from the West Pasco Sertoma's beef barbecue sales. Those sales were also down about 30 percent, said McCart, though the proceeds will cover the several-hundred-dollars loss from the raffle.

In order to keep Sertoma's programs going, McCart said, the group plans to organize some smaller fundraisers.

Some groups managed to do okay at Chasco.

Trinity Rotary, which hosted its first-ever fishing tournament, raised about $15,000 for the Angelus home for developmentally disabled adults. Alzheimer's Family Organization netted $14,600 — nearly $2,000 more than the previous year — from its Rally to Remember, a series of foot races and bicycle tours.

But there wasn't a whole lot Chasco organizers could do about the fate of its biggest fundraiser, the country concert.

Most years, nearly 4,000 people crowd into Sims Park to see well-known singers perform. Tickets cost between $15 and $30.

But this year, predictions of rain in the days before the concert, which featured Jake Owen and Josh Gracin, kept a lot of people away. The predictions, of course, turned out to be true.

What started out as a smaller-than-usual crowd of 1,800 people became 300 that night after the driving rain began, said Alpine. Owen managed to sing seven songs before the deluge. Gracin came on later than night and performed a few songs.

"We'll probably be in the red a little bit," Alpine said. "But to say how much, we don't know yet."

Weather insurance, which the festival has paid for in the past, proved too expensive, Alpine said. The two years the group did get it, he said, "it never rained a drop." (To make up any losses from this year, the chamber will dip into its — you guessed it — rainy day fund, which has about $35,000 in it, said Alpine.)

This year's disappointing returns have got some people thinking about how to be more creative next year. McCart, the Sertoma director, for instance, said he might offer up a different raffle prize.

"I was thinking," he said, "about raffling a gas card next year."

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Charities at Chasco felt sting of weather, economy 05/22/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 23, 2008 8:57pm]

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