Stoplight solicitation bans gain momentum in Elkhart area

Have you ever approached a stop light in your car only to be approached by someone seeking a charitable donation?

The somewhat common practice of ‘in the road—in your face—fundraising is increasingly being banned in Elkhart County.

The City of Goshen was the first to pass a ban in September, while Elkhart County followed suit on October 15th.

Now another ban is being considered by the City of Elkhart.

“It’s absolutely an accident that’s waiting to happen,” said Mayor Dick Moore, (D) Elkhart. “I’ve stopped, and I’ve donated to charities that I recognized but I’ve never felt overly comfortable about it, and I know a lot of Elkhartans do the same thing, and again, I say that I believe they’ll feel that this is the right thing to do.”

Although fundraising in the middle of the road has been a somewhat common practice for years, it’s one that the Elkhart County Board of Commissioners has already voted to ban—effective January first. “We ran into some issues that some of the people that were collecting money were even from southern Michigan, coming down to use our busy intersections to collect money, and they weren’t even local people,” said County Commissioner Frank Lucchese. “I’m sure a lot of the people that were donating to their funds didn’t realize that they weren’t local peole.”

The Noon Kiwanis Club is a local organization that typically took to the streets of Elkhart twice a year to raise funds. Today, the group was hosting a spaghetti lunch/dinner as a sign that it had already moved on.

“I understand the safety aspects of it, it’s probably not a bad thing to get the people off the streets, it is very busy,” said Kiwanis President Douglas Mulvaney. “We’re able to do fundraisers like this today with the spaghetti dinner, lunch and dinner that help raise funds obviously inside and safe.”

Having worked his share of past fundraisers out in the streets, Mulvaney knows that there is some danger involved. “One time and one of our members was crossing the street and even though he had on orange vest on and the other driver had the stoplight, turned right, turned right or left on red and clipped him a little but we were a little concerned, but nobody got hurt.”

The proposed ban in the City of Elkhart would be the toughest yet in that it would also ban sidewalk sign holders, like the one working outside of Joe’s Gold today on Bristol.

“It’s no worse than looking up at a billboard because if you go down the road the big billboards, they're designed to get your attention too,” said Joe’s Gold Manager Gerry Current. “Should we take those down?”

The job of sidewalk sign holder is one that Gerry holds near and dear to his heart. His first job in the business had him holding a sign while wearing a gorilla costume, and that was enough to get his foot in the door.

“I think if the mayor goes ahead and closes this, there will at least 20, 30 people out of jobs, back on unemployment,” said Current.

Elkhart’s proposed ban comes up for first reading before the city council tonight, meaning a final vote is at least two weeks away.

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