HAWLEY - A solicitation for funds to support area fire companies has been arriving in mail boxes recently in the Hawley area. A newly organized group, the Volunteer Firefighters Trust Foundation (VFTF), is seeking the funds. It is not connected with the Hawley Fire Department, said Fire Chief Scott Mead.
   VFTF was founded by John Barnett, who lives in the Lakeville area.
   Barnett said he served a long while as a volunteer with the Lakeville Fire Department and is a retired New York City police officer of 20 years- the last eight as a detective.
    He stated that he is aware that the volunteer fire companies in the area struggle for funds and receive few dollars if any from their local municipality. Lakeville Fire Department benefits from a township tax.
     Barnett said he just wanted to be able to help, realizing that these volunteers have to spend so many hours fund-raising. He said he was moved at seeing the Hawley firefighters standing outside for hours at coin drops.
    The fund-raising effort, however, came as a surprise to local fire officials.  Chief Mead and Deputy Chief Eugene Krause were contacted by individuals who had received the appeal letter, asking what this was about and if it was connected with the Hawley Fire Department. The letter contained a Hawley postal box address and the web site address for VFTF but no person’s name or phone number. Out of prudence, Krause asked Hawley Police Chief Daniel Drake to look into the matter and see whether it was a legitimate charitable organization.
     Barnett said he showed Chief Drake his paperwork that he was registered as a charitable organization with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. He said the Chief advised him that it would have better if he had mentioned his plans to the local fire company so they would have been aware. “He was right,” Barnett stated, “in retrospect, I wish I had.” Barnett said he was sorry for any confusion he created. The appeal, he said, was meant as a test to see if he would get any response. Not knowing if the idea would work, he said he did not yet have anything to show the fire department.
    VFTF, however, is not among the charities listed on the Pennsylvania Department of State web site, www.charities.pa.gov.
     Barnett said that paperwork was filed with the state and it should be listed. A call made to the PA  Department of State by The News Eagle found that there is a large backlog of documentation to post, so the web site is not necessarily current.
    They have not yet filed with the federal Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Barnett said, due to the cost of setting up a 501-3c organization. He stated he learned from the IRS that funds raised in the same year before he had the IRS non-profit designation, would be grandfathered.
     VFTF is set up with a board of directors, who would disperse the funds as grants to the fire company in the area where the fund-raising was directed. He said they are all volunteers, and would only retain what funds were needed to cover expenses of printing the color appeal letter and mailing.
    Their stated mission is, “To establish a trust fund though corporate and private donations, to assist Volunteer Fire Departments in obtaining the essential equipment they need to operate.”     Their Facebook page had an entry in November stating that their paperwork was finally going through and they could soon begin their fund-raising.
    “Our by-laws have set our mission. It is our Foundation’s hope to be able to be able to provide relief in the form grants to our local fire companies and to set up a trust fund to ensure in case of an emergency that funds are available,” their Facebook page states.
      Hawley fire officials, however, advised people who were contacted about the appeal to not respond to it.
       Deputy Chief Krause commented, “... he should have contacted the emergency services where he was sending the mailing to make us aware of it, and to ask our opinion.”  Krause added that this new effort seems to duplicate what local organizations such as fire companies already do, with the funds collected going completely to the company without a portion taken out for administrative costs.
    He said Hawley Fire Department frequently gets questions about different solicitations from various groups, and they advise the public to contribute locally, to a known group.
    Krause stated, “ I would urge everyone to just directly contribute to the emergency services in their area, as people only have so much money to contribute, and this might take away funds that the people would normally give directly to the fire departments’ mailing. It also sounds like money received from a certain area might not be distributed back to that area, thereby reducing the funds received.
     Barnett stated that their plan is to disburse the grants to the companies where the fund-raising was directed and that the goal is to take the burden of fund-raising off the volunteer fire companies.
       ”The whole idea is to help the local fire departments,” Barnett said. “I see them out there all day collecting money. Wouldn’t it be nice if they wouldn’t have to do that?”
      Their web site address is www.vftf.org.
      Chief Drake said that he was still investigating.