Just a few years ago, Peace River Wildlife Center was floundering. We had a dwindling board of directors and frighteningly little money in the bank. In order to try to rectify that, a few of the remaining stalwarts attended board-building exercises at the Charlotte Community Foundation.
There we learned about the attributes that a solid board member should have. One of the things that struck me was that each board member should make a stretch donation to the organization they claim to support. A stretch donation can be $50 or $50,000. They can reach into their own pocket for that money or they can help us raise it through friends, family or business contacts.
The idea of a stretch donation is not limited to board members. Admission to PRWC is by donation. While we have a suggested minimum of $5 per adult and $3 per child, we greatly appreciate the folks who give us more. And we know that some people just don’t have even that much, and we would rather hear the clunk of a pocketful of change hitting the bottom of the donation jug than hear, “Sorry, kids; we can’t go in there today and learn about nature.”
PRWC can’t exist if no one gives us money to purchase the food and medical supplies we need to care for our patients and resident animals. The upkeep on our aging buildings, habitats and equipment is also expensive. But luckily for all the struggling families that can’t afford the luxury of donating large amounts of cash to a local nonprofit, there are people who can and do. And those less fortunate families often make their own stretch donations.
Many people purchase items for us from our wish list. When five or six people throw an extra bag of kale in with their own groceries each week, or give us the free bag of dog food when Publix offers a BOGO, it really adds up. Think of the impact if 20 families were doing that. Or 100.
We also have the occasional donor who loads up a truck with a little bit of everything we need. Or the guy who, twice a year, buys us an entire truckload of the heavy-duty bags we need for our aluminum can recycling program.
Not too long ago, when things were at their bleakest, PRWC received an amazingly generous bequest of $100,000 from the estate of Leo Wotitzky. That money not only gave us the shot in the arm we needed to purchase food and keep our doors open, it showed us that the community still believed in our mission and motivated us to keep going. We now have a strong nine-member board of directors (who all make their own stretch donations, right?), with individual skill sets that make them invaluable.
Conversely, there is a PRWC supporter in Punta Gorda who is unable to make such magnanimous cash donations. Living on a fixed income due to a disability, he gathers aluminum cans from his neighbors and has them picked up weekly to be delivered. I’m not sure if he has ever even been to the Center, but his unfaltering devotion to Charlotte County’s wildlife is commendable.
Our army of volunteers — over 100 strong — does their bit too. They scrape poop, pick up entrails, chop food, wash dishes and laundry, wash dishes and laundry, and wash dishes and laundry. (We go though a lot of dishes and laundry!) From retired IBM executives and school teachers to current students and homemakers, our volunteers all make a stretch donation by being there for us when we need them.
With a small paid staff, we rely on volunteers to be able to care for injured wildlife and take care of the facilities that house the unreleasable ones. PRWC prides itself on the comment we hear most frequently from visitors: “It doesn’t even stink here!” And the glory of that goes to the volunteers who scramble out of bed early each morning to clean those habitats before the visitors arrive.
All these people allow us to perform well over $500,000 worth of service on a budget of $100,000. Now that we have an engineer ready to help us design the new facility, we will have even more opportunities and exciting announcements forthcoming.
No, we can’t save every crane, heron or tortoise that gets hit by a car or poisoned by red tide. But we can make a difference to a lot of animals — like the bald eagle we were able to release just a few weeks ago after he had been burned by a power pole discharge 10 months earlier. We’ve gotten reports of his return to his original territory. He has reunited with his mate, and there are indications that they are getting ready to nest and breed.
So, yeah. We made a difference to that one. And so did you, by supporting PRWC. Your stretch donations helped Icarus stretch his wings and fly once again over the skies of Punta Gorda. But our need for help will never end, because every day there are more animals that need us. We’re in it for the long run — I hope you are too.
Peace River Wildlife Center is a nonprofit organization, dedicated to the care, preservation and protection of Charlotte County’s native wildlife since 1978. They are open seven days a week year-round, including holidays. Tours are offered from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. PRWC receives no government funding and relies entirely on private donations. For more info, visit PRWildlife.org, email PeaceRiverWildlife@yahoo.com or call 941-637-3830.