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Fire co. house raffle hopes to raise funds

The Girdletree Volunteer Fire Company paid to construct this home in Greenbackville, Virginia, to include it as the prize in a raffle being held June 1 in hopes of raising additional funds for the fire company.

By Victor Fernandes, Staff Writer

(March 28, 2019) The popular “Cash & Bike Bash” event has annually been a profitable day for the Girdletree Volunteer Fire Company.

Yet the fundraiser’s 15th anniversary, set for June 1 at the firehouse on Snow Hill Road in Girdletree, features a grand prize four years in the making, literally and figuratively. Less than 10 miles south of this tiny Worcester County town, and just across the state line in Greenbackville, Va., lies a home that was built with one purpose — to help the fire company continue to protect the few hundred residents of Girdletree.

It took raising money through fundraisers since 2015 to construct the home that one lucky raffle ticket holder could win, which was difficult, fire company treasurer and fundraising committee chairman Jeff McMahon said, because “we don’t have a very big base to be able to raise funds.”

The Girdletree Volunteer Fire Company, like several other Worcester County fire companies, receives government funding on state and county levels. The rest comes from ingenuity and hard work, which is why volunteers tackled a challenging fundraising campaign that has grown in popularity through social media marketing they hope stretches from Girdletree to major metropolitan areas in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

“About 15, 20 years ago, a group of us got together and we decided if we’re going to raise funds we’re limited, [so] we have to think outside the box,” said McMahon, a Girdletree volunteer for 39 years. Ocean Pines Fire Department President David Van Gasbeck, a longtime volunteer firefighter, said additional funding maintains, if not improves upon, emergency vehicles and equipment that play key roles in providing high-quality support.

“That money doesn’t always come operationally from the municipality,” Van Gasbeck said.

A raffle with a house as the grand prize isn’t necessarily unique, McMahon said. McMahon said the fundraising committee copied the idea from Ocean Pines Fire Department, which held house raffles for many years through 2017.

“We were very successful for a number of years, not only getting the community to support us, but to get the tourists that come here from May through October to support us,” Van Gasbeck said. “The house was done early enough in the June or July timeframe that individuals could come in and look at the house.”

Girdletree’s groundbreaking occurred last fall and the house was completed two months ago. It’s a short walk from the plot of land that could be home to Girdletree’s next house raffle prize in two years if, McMahon said, “if we feel as if it was worth the effort and we made enough money.”

Van Gasbeck said Ocean Pines Fire Department’s board of directors voted against continuing house raffles after 2017, when the fundraiser grew less cost-effective because of increasing costs to build homes. After holding a cash raffle in 2018, OPFD is holding a truck raffle this year, with the winner taking home a 2019 Chevrolet Silverado in October.

Since government money can’t be spent on organizing fundraisers, Girdletree’s fundraising committee relied on funds raised through other fundraisers held in the past four years to cover construction and other costs.

McMahon said he’s hopeful Girdletree’s fire company will sell at least the 2,000 of the $100 tickets needed to break even financially or, better yet, turn a profit. The raffle winner can choose between accepting the house, valued at $170,000, or a cash option totaling $100,000.

“It’s a huge event,” McMahon said of the Cash & Bike Bash day, also headlined by a raffle featuring a Harley Davidson motorcycle valued at about $24,000. Other local fire companies hold raffles with cash and guns as prizes. Whatever it takes, local fire companies do it to raise money.

“You have to be able to earn some of that money … because municipalities nowadays just simply can’t afford to it,” Van Gasbeck said.