ELKHART — Local officials fear that people are putting themselves in danger by soliciting donations for charity at one of Elkhart County’s busiest intersections.
The Elkhart County Board of Commissioners has received complaints in recent weeks about people collecting money in plastic buckets where S.R. 120 crosses C.R. 17 south of the Six Span Bridge. More than 8,700 vehicles pass through the intersection each day, according to the most recent figures from the Indiana Department of Transportation.
“Someone is going to get hurt,” board president Terry Rodino said.
While some groups give the commissioners and the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department a heads up about donation drives at stoplights, others don’t bother to give advance notice, Rodino said. He pointed out that the county does not have an ordinance or policy regarding solicitations at intersections.
“It’s just one more distraction that I think impedes traffic safety,” commissioner Mike Yoder added.
Sheriff Brad Rogers said there have not been any accidents directly caused by people seeking donations at intersections but agreed that the crossing at S.R. 120 and C.R. 17 is not a safe location.
The city of Elkhart’s Board of Works receives between six and 10 requests annually from nonprofit organizations for stoplight donation drives, board member Arvis Dawson estimated. He said the board sometimes gets complaints about unwanted solicitation and concerns about safety. The city grants these requests for specific intersections and encourages people to post signs, set up orange traffic cones and stay off the road when cars are moving.
Much like Elkhart, the city of Goshen’s Board of Works requires groups to put their requests into writing for review. The board has received four requests so far this year and allows organizations to borrow traffic cones and safety vests from the city’s Street Department.
After this year, Child and Parent Services in Elkhart will no longer collect donations at intersections for its annual Lifesaver Campaign.
“It was a way for people to see us out in the community, but the benefits were not worth risking the safety of our volunteers,” CAPS marketing director Jami Stamm said, adding that the group plans to boost its presence at storefronts and put more emphasis into its letter-writing campaign. “From a safety perspective, take as many precautions as possible and go through the proper channels to get approved,” Stamm said.
Dunlap Lions Club secretary Amanda Fast said some members choose not to participate in intersection fundraisers out of concerns for safety but noted that the group takes steps to avoid any traffic hazards. Members wear club vests while out on the road and set up traffic cones and signs before cars approach the intersection.
Several fire departments hold annual Fill-the-Boot fundraisers at intersections where firefighters collect loose change for charity. Dan Sink, Goshen fire chief, said groups collecting donations should make safety their top priority.
“It’s dangerous because you’re out in traffic,” he said. “Be nice, and be polite. Some people want to give and others don’t, so be respectful of that.”