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Queens Chronicle

Cash-strapped VAC to hold fundraiser

Whitestone corps recruits Easter Bunny for funds and volunteer drive

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Posted: Thursday, March 29, 2012 12:00 pm | Updated: 2:29 pm, Thu Apr 5, 2012.

The Whitestone Community Volunteer Ambulance Service is holding a “Breakfast with the Easter Bunny” fundraiser Saturday, April 7 to raise money for its free service that has fallen victim to the economic downturn.

The volunteer corps has provided free 24-hour, 7-day-a-week ambulance transportation since 1947, but members now need volunteer help and donations more than ever to keep it running.

The association consists of 80 volunteers who serve as dispatchers, ambulance medics and on the board of directors.

“I think a huge problem in funding is a result of the younger community moving to Whitestone that don’t even know we’re here,” said Devon O’Connor, a VAC member and president of the Welcome to Whitestone Community and Residential Civic Association. “We used to be completely community-funded through donations, but now that source is drying up. People don’t realize that if they call us they can avoid a $5,000 ambulance service medical bill.”

The corps also provides a free medical supply “borrowing” service where residents can call and use their stock of wheelchairs, walkers and crutches.

O’Connor said that getting the word out about the Whitestone VAC had involved a staffing makeover of the board of directors, including bringing in new president Vincent Zullo, who replaced the last president of seven years.

They are also now further involving members of their youth program by allowing them to take ride-alongs to encourage them to stay on with the corps.

The need for more volunteers is just as important as funding.

O’Connor said that they often ask their volunteers, who are mostly retirees, to work double shifts, resulting in a 12-hour work day, whether they’re answering phones or out participating in pickups.

He said he understands that a household in the Whitestone community usually consists of two working adults, but any free time they do have can be utilized.

Charles Silverstein, captain and volunteer throughout the VAC’s transformation, said the service never turns anyone in the area away.

“We have a new attitude and revitalized squad,” Silverstein said. “We’ve added a grant director who is a gentleman who is a retired grant director for the United Nations. He goes over all government grants that can help us out since we only stuck to corporate grants in the past.”

O’Connor said that they need at least $4,000 to $5,000 per month just to cover the gas and equipment that the ambulances need, not including food for the volunteers for their 12- or 6-hour shifts.

Last year the breakfast raised $510 by charging a $10 entry fee for families to take pictures with the Easter Bunny and enjoy facepainting, balloon animals, bagels, cupcakes and other holiday treats from Whitestone businesses that support the VAC’s cause.

Most of the VAC’s volunteers and board members will be present to show the corps’ ambulances, answer any questions about their services and participate in the family activities next Saturday.

This year the admission cost will be the same and the event will take place at Dabby’s Child Party Place on 11-02 Clintonville St. from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

To volunteer, donate or just get a tour of the headquarters call the VAC offices at (718) 767-0577.

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