ROCKINGHAM — Two of Richmond County’s biggest nonprofit fundraising efforts collected significantly less cash this year after netting large gains in 2014.
Rex Crouch Jr., who is in charge of the Ellerbe Lions Club lawnmower track as well as the Tossing for Taylor tournament benefiting the Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis Foundation in honor of his daughter, doesn’t quite know what to pinpoint the drop-off on. The tournament had a total of 12 teams participating raising $2,500 — a 28.5 percent decline from last year’s 24 teams and $3,500 raised.
“It was a little disappointing to be down from last year,” Crouch said of the numbers. “You always wanna be up. I don’t know if there are more fundraisers for people to go to.”
A look at unemployment figures in Richmond County over the last few years show the rate was 11.6 percent in 2012, 9 percent in 2013 and 6.7 percent last year. February numbers from this year, the latest figures reported by the North Carolina Department of Commerce, show the rate has increased to 8.3 percent after a few years of steady declines.
State statistics also show that the median household income for the county last year was $31,065. The most telling number of all, however, could be Richmond County’s total population below the poverty line — 11,727, or roughly a quarter of the county’s residents. Crouch thinks these figures could have something to do with decrease in support.
“It probably does, because people don’t have the extra money to go out and do stuff like this,” he said. “You have to pay bills if you don’t have the money to go out and support these events.”
There is, of course, still a chance Crouch reaches his figure from last year with two lawnmower races left on the Lions Den’s schedule. With a lot more T-shirts left to sell, he’s hoping within the next month or two to make another $500 to $800. The next race will begin at 6 p.m. June 6.
RELAY DOWN 41%
Cameron Whitley, coordinator for Richmond County’s Relay for Life with the American Cancer Society, has seen a similar drop-off in money from last year’s event. With a $100,000 goal set last year and in 2015, expectations were exceeded in 2014 when the event hauled in $104,000.
This year, however, that number dropped by 41 percent, with the Relay only reaching $61,284.15.
Whitley said a huge impact on this year’s figures was a loss of one of its top earning-teams when it moved to Scotland County.
“Last year, half their plant moved to Wagram,” she said of one of the top teams. “They only have 5,000 employees. They’re supporting the Scotland County relay. Ultimately it will still go to the American Cancer Society but not here in Richmond County. It’s not for a lack of trying or effort, but they had changes. We sustained losses to our event due to companies relocating outside the county.”
Whitley said despite the high unemployment and low median income figures, the fact that more than $60,000 was raised with a large portion of the county under the poverty line is incredible in her eyes.
“I think considering that, it’s incredible that we raise what we do,” she said. “Seventy thousand dollars with the poverty line is incredible. We fell short of the number, but I still think it’s awesome. We have very generous sponsors. A large portion comes from $1 and $2 donations. I’m so grateful for every dime that was raised.”
As was the case with Tossing for Taylor, Whitely expects her number to grow as well with donations still being accepted until Aug. 31.
“There’s still some outstanding sponsorships and teams with outstanding money to turn in,” she said. “Aug. 31 is the cut-off date. People can still donate until then, absolutely.”
Losses aren’t being reported across the board, however. United Way of Richmond County Executive Director Michelle Parrish said her group exceeded expectations this year. With an annual goal of $250,000 for the last couple of years, Parrish said this year an extra $35,000 has been raised.
“Our fundraisers over the last couple of years has been a little off, but this year we’ve exceeded expectations,” Parrish said. “I guess doing fundraisers as a whole is timing. Mine’s a 12-month-a-year fundraiser, but mine’s a little different from what they do. It’s a good time to come out.”
Parrish is referring to other fundraising groups across the county, but unlike Crouch and Whitley, Parrish doesn’t think the unemployment numbers truly reflect the county’s economic health.
“Unemployment are not true numbers. Those are six-month numbers. That’s not a true reflection of what the unemployment rate in Richmond County is,” she said. “We do numbers with United Way too. We served men, women and children. We served over 12,000 individuals in Richmond County. We served them over 147,000 times.”
Parrish used Back Pack Pals as an example, saying the group counts each child who receives a backpack. In just the first quarter of this year alone, 3,554 individuals were helped.
“That’s from all of our agencies that we work with. We work with 17 partnering agencies in Richmond County,” she said. “They provide their own service to the community.”
Although dollar figures are down from last year in certain events, Parrish believes those declines are not likely something that will stick around.
“The economy is making that slow turn where more people are actually going back to work and want to give back to these agencies that helped them when they were in need,” she said. “We were at $281,000 this past year. We couldn’t make those numbers without people in the community giving back.”
Reach reporter Matt Harrelson at 910-817-2674, listen to him at 12:10 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays on WAYN 900 AM and follow him on Twitter @mattyharrelson.