CHRISTINE DONOVAN-HALL stands by auction items at the fire station on Orr's Island. The auction is a critical piece of fundraising for the department. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO / ORR'S & BAILEY ISLANDS FIRE DEPARTMENT

CHRISTINE DONOVAN-HALL stands by auction items at the fire station on Orr’s Island. The auction is a critical piece of fundraising for the department. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO / ORR’S & BAILEY ISLANDS FIRE DEPARTMENT

HARPSWELL

A quarter century in, the Orr’s & Bailey Islands Fire Department’s annual auction and yard sale is still raising critical funding for its operations.

“We’ll need to raise over a third of our budget this year at the auction,” said Bob Garver, president of the department’s board of directors.

The Orr’s & Bailey Islands Fire Department is one of three volunteer fire departments in Harpswell, each of which receives partial funding from the town.

Garver said the department receives $60,000 from the town, but a majority of its budget comes from private donations through the auction/ yard sale and an appeal letter. Together, those sources make up the three-legged stool that supports the department’s efforts.

“Without any one of them, we would not be able to maintain our operation,” said Garver.

He added that between the two fundraising efforts, the department needs to raise $120,000.

“This just allows us to keep our doors open so that we can provide the vital, life saving protection services that we offer the community,” said Garver.

“We only get a small amount of our operating budget from the town, and then we have to raise all of the rest of the money,” said auction committee chairperson Christine Donovan-Hall.

Jeffrey Cammack, executive director of the Maine Fire Chiefs Association, said that it’s not unusual for volunteer departments to rely on fundraising to operate.

“Especially for volunteer fire departments, you’ll find that’s kind of the rule of thumb,” he said. “They usually do at least one or two fundraisers a year to keep them going or to raise money for specific equipment.”

Cammack admitted that volunteer departments may have to rely more on municipal support in the future, as departments around the state are having trouble recruiting volunteers and soliciting donations.

“What we’re finding around the state is communities are investing more and more in their fire departments. They’re finding that a volunteer chief cannot keep up with the demand, the training and the paperwork that’s required and their hiring at least one or two people,” said Cammack.

Harpswell has taken similar steps over the last year, hiring a fulltime fire administrator and funding two paid firefighter positions to provide daytime coverage on weekdays.

‘Important event for the community’

The event has also become

an anticipated fixture of summer in Harpswell.

“As critical as it is to the operation of our department, we also feel like it’s also an important event for the community. Most people in the community would not miss this,” said Garver. “People put so much of their heart and soul into this. They work so hard, I’m talking about months and months in advance.”

“It’s our 25th annual auction and yard sale,” added Donovan-Hall, “so that’s kind of a big deal.”

She said the first auction and yard sale was attended mostly by volunteer firefighters and their families, and managed to raise only $300. Currently, the annual event easily raises tens of thousands of dollars to support that volunteer fire department. Last year the event cleared $50,000 in sales.

“People look forward to it every year,” said Donovan- Hall. “Even people that have moved away from here come back every year for the yard sale and auction and help us out by volunteering leading up to it and then bidding during the auction.”

The event features items ranging from old chairs to a ventriloquist dummy and anything in between.

“We have a big ticket item this year,” said Donovan- Hall. “We have a comic book.”

The signed comic book is an issue of The Life Of Captain Marvel, a new miniseries that places the eponymous superheroine in Harpswell. The author, Margaret Stohl, has vacationed in Harpswell for several years and decided to use the town as the backdrop for her story. The issue features a shot of the superheroine flying by the Cribstone Bridge to Bailey Island and visiting other locations that might look familiar to Midcoast residents.

In the weeks leading up to the event, Harpswell residents drop off all kinds of materials for the auction and yard sale, from furniture to boats. People can preview some of the donated items on the department’s website, obifd.org.

The silent auction and yard sale begin at 8 a.m. Saturday and will run through to 2 p.m. On Sunday, the main auction begins at 10 a.m. Items that weren’t sold Saturday can also be bought Sunday. There will also be a food booth. The events will take place at their main fire station and inside the old Orr’s Island Schoolhouse on Harpswell Islands Road.

“We’re just looking forward to having people attend,” said Donovan-Hall. “We’d love to have anybody that wants to come. It’s a good time.”

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