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Firehouse fundraiser keeps chugging along $4,000-8,000 coming in weekly

SOLON– Over 550 people donated to the Solon Firehouse campaign, representing 28 states, 29 counties in Iowa and five countries.
Between cash and commitments, the Solon Firefighter Association raised about $670,000, according to Solon firefighter Greg Morris.
Morris has been working to raise funds for a year and a half, and the donations continue to come in at a rate of between $4,000-8,000 a week.
“That’s nothing to sneeze at,” he noted.
On a single recent day, Morris received contributions from people in Nebraska and Ohio.
“Which makes what we’re doing fun,” he said.
In June of 2018, the Solon Tri-Township Emergency Response Agency and the Solon Firefighter Association proposed a new firehouse at the intersection of Windflower Lane and Prairie Rose Lane, just east of Highway 1 on Solon’s south side.
The new structure will feature eight double-depth bays, with one dedicated for future ambulance use, and will resolve the space issues the department has been experiencing.
The new firehouse will be outfitted with 40 turnout gear lockers with room for more and will feature a 60-seat training room, a small meeting room, offices and dedicated space for self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and other equipment.
It’s about 26,000 square feet total, more than twice the size of the current station, and includes an unfinished basement.
Firefighters have since been working to raise the money needed to make the $5 million facility a reality.
The fire agency set a date of Jan. 1, to review the success of the campaign, and at a joint meeting with the Solon City Council Jan. 22, agency board members voted to extend the campaign another year.
Morris appreciated the show of support.
“We applaud them for being patient with us,” he said, and thanked the agency for its vote of confidence.
Morris has cataloged the donations to date in a series of three binders and each contributor received a personally signed thank-you.
About 400 of the donations have come from within the fire district, he said, representing about 15 percent of the total addresses served by the department.
“If we got that 15 percent number to 45 percent, we’d be done,” he observed. “The more people get on board, the quicker we’re going to turn dirt.”
When the fundraising campaign started, firefighters placed a price tag on areas of interest in the building, with dedicated donations going toward the naming of each.
Almost all of those named areas are spoken for, Morris said, and most of those donations have come from within the community.
The dorm area for firefighters has been fully funded, as have the chief and assistant chief offices. Almost half of the gear lockers are spoken for, as is the meeting room.
Only a couple of spots are not fully funded.
“We really can’t go backwards,” Morris noted.
“The big question in everybody’s mind is what? Can we get there?” he asked during the joint meeting. “Yes, we can, and yes we will. Period. We think otherwise and we’re sunk.”
The Firehouse donation total has been consistently growing as firefighters have undertaken a lengthy series of events to highlight the project.
The association hosted two successful restaurant nights, pumped gasoline at RJ’Z Express, held a four-person golf tournament, handed out ice cream during a hot summer bicycle ride, roasted marshmallows around a bonfire and placed boots in area stores, among a host of other events.
For the first time, the fire department opened for trick or treat on Halloween and welcomed Santa Claus to the station before Christmas.
The project has consumed a lot of time for head fundraiser Morris, but it’s been a ton of fun.
“It has made us a closer group,” he said. “It has allowed our families to get to know each other better. It has challenged us to do different things.”
Most recently, the Palmer House Stable hosted a New Year’s Eve dance and Empire Fitness & Nutrition invited people in for an introductory workout with proceeds benefiting the campaign.
Morris continues to be impressed with the generosity.
Farm Bureau Credit Services contributed $10,000 a couple months ago, he said, and the association recently received an additional $2,000.
Hills Bank & Trust also stepped up with a donation.
“They don’t have a bank in town,” he said. “They’ve got a three-year commitment to us.”
The money continues to flow in because firefighters are involved in the community, he suggested.
“We continue to be positive about what we’re doing, and in the end, we know we’re going to get it done,” he added.
Morris has become active on social media as a result of the fundraising efforts, and his postings on Facebook and Twitter go out to over 5,000 people.
Donations from Facebook, Morris said, likely represent about $2,000 of overall giving, with people chipping in $10-20 at a time.
“People in this community had no idea how busy we are,” he said.
The average donation is probably under $500, he estimated, ranging from $3 to $25,000.
With the blessing of the fire agency to continue the work, Morris hopes to increase grassroots efforts for the next several months.
That includes promoting monthly pledges to the Firehouse fund through automatic checking account deductions. The association has accounts at both Solon State Bank and Bridge Community Bank, and potential donors can schedule a withdrawal from their account regardless of the financial institution, he said.
“That type of fundraising is strength in numbers,” he added.
Another new idea came from the need for a handout.
Morris found he needed something small to hand out to people, so he prepared some cards with information about how to donate.
He’s going to be handing them out and encouraging people to hang on to them.
“Don’t throw it away,” he urged. “Pass it on to someone else.”
In an added twist, Morris plans to number the cards and create a contest to see how many people can be convinced to donate from a single card. Those who gave using the card that raised the most will be invited to the firehouse for dinner.
“You just keep trying to have fun things to help it grow,” he explained. People have suggested a family-friendly live comedian, and Morris is open to anyone’s ideas.
“To this point, anything we’ve done has been successful,” he said. “Every time we do something right now, we are touching different lives.”
The money raised to date will help the association qualify for grants requiring a 10 percent match, he said, and firefighters will continue to explore funding opportunities with Johnson County and other governmental sources.
Morris thanked those who have already made a contribution.
“Their kindness, their donations, their kind thoughts continue to motivate our membership to want to get the building done,” he said. “In the end, it’s the community’s building.”
He’s staying patient and positive as the campaign moves forward.
“The reality is, a project this big, it’s going to take time,” he said.
The community has pretty good expectations, and firefighters put a lot of thought into the plan before presenting it to the public.
It’s a large building and won’t be full right away, but will keep the department in good shape for the next 25 years, he said.
“It truly is built for the future,” Morris said. “Today, yes, but more so for tomorrow.”
For more information and updates: www.solonfirehouse.com.