Donations to the Oklahoma City Fire Department’s annual Muscular Dystrophy Association fundraiser were down more than 40 percent in the wake of a new city ordinance banning people from collecting money on street medians.
The ordinance, passed in December, was intended to keep panhandlers from begging in street medians, but District Fire Chief Benny Fulkerson said the department knew it would affect their annual MDA fundraising efforts, which yielded $301,000 in 2015.
This year’s fundraiser, which ran May 23 through May 29, raised $177,373, representing a 41 percent decrease from 2015 totals.
“The reason why we’re down this year was absolutely due to the ordinance, and we knew that would be the case,” Fulkerson said Tuesday. “It was tough this year — not good. But we did the best we could, and that’s still a chunk. Hopefully that helps them a little bit, but obviously not what we had hoped for. You do the best you can do within the confines of what you have to work with.”
Fulkerson said the OKC Fire Department previously had been the fifth-highest department in terms of money raised for MDA during the organization’s national “fill the boot” campaign.
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“The problem we ended up having as this went on was that the citizens didn’t always know that the ordinance was in existence,” said Fulkerson, the department’s public information officer. “So they would pull up, and they’d be a lane or two over from the curb and they’re holding money up, and we can’t go get it.
“It was frustrating to them, so a lot of our firefighters basically quit early this year and didn’t put in as many hours as they had in the past because it was a situation where we didn’t want to frustrate the citizens and have them wonder why we weren’t coming out there to collect their money as we always have.”
A firefighter who spoke to NonDoc on background while collecting donations seemed dejected by the changes. Fulkerson emphasized that the firefighters — who collect funds while on the clock and sometimes have to leave to respond to calls — enjoy the fundraiser as a way to do something positive while mixing up their weekly routine.
Citizens complain, cops respond
During the week of the fundraiser, Fulkerson confirmed to NonDoc that police were called on firefighters in north Oklahoma City who had not yet adjusted their behavior to comply with the ordinance.
He said the fire department’s administration originally heard a citation had been written by police, but later they learned otherwise.
“We did have a citizen who was upset that we were in the street going over a lane or so taking the donation (people) were trying to give us,” Fulkerson said.
Oklahoma City Police Department public information officer Paco Balderrama confirmed the account and said the department has simply written some reports.
“Yeah, that’s kind of a false rumor that we’ve been citing a bunch of firefighters,” Balderrama said Thursday. “We have gotten some complaints from citizens who were just offended that maybe they weren’t following the ordinance completely as it was written. So we went out there and wrote a couple reports and made sure the firefighters were complying, which is the same as we would do with anybody else, by the way.
“Anybody who is on the median is always afforded the opportunity to correct their behavior. We don’t just go straight to the citation. That’s what we’ve always done, knowing that a lot of the people who are violating the ordinance are homeless and out there asking for money, not with the intent of breaking the law.”
Balderrama also said OKC police have written 25 citations under the median ordinance in the nearly six months it has been in effect.
Fulkerson said MDA offered the fire department an online donation link late in this year’s campaign to help raise additional money.
‘Muscular dystrophy’ actually a group of diseases
Muscular dystrophy refers to a group of diseases that “cause progressive weakness and loss of muscle mass,” according to the Mayo Clinic’s website.
MDA’s website lists more than 90 neuromuscular diseases, and the organization expends its resources in different ways, including: funding research about diseases, providing care and support for families and financing kids’ attendance to an MDA summer camp.
“In 2015, MDA awarded 84 research grants with a total funding commitment of more than $21.5 million,” according to the organization’s website.
(Correction: This post was updated June 1 at 10:45 a.m. to clarify reference to the City of OKC’s median ordinance.)