Lynchburg, VA - You've seen them around to Lynchburg firefighters hoisting rubber boots to raise money for muscular dystrophy. They took the fundraiser off the streets and moved to private property when the city passed an ordinance against aggressive panhandling."They're just working trying to pick different events and just trying to find certain locations where you'll get the most traffic and see the most people," said master firefighter Todd Davis.But that's where an issue may lie: traffic and people.In 2004, two years before the city passed the panhandling ordinance, Lynchburg firefighters raised $40,000, a high at the time. In 2006, when the ordinance passed, just $3,500.Recently, the totals climbed back up again, with more than $80,000 going to the Muscular Dystrophy Association between 2011 and 2013. This year, LFD raised $46,500.But MDA wants to take the boots back to the streets. "We're extremely grateful as family members and MDA for what the city of Lynchburg does for muscular dystrophy," said Don Roberts.Don Roberts works closely with MDA. The organization hits close to home. In January, his grandson RJ Brown passed away after a 10-year bout with muscular dystrophy. "[RJ] had gone to the hospital [in Lynchburg] and after some deliberation, he was on a helicopter going to the University of Virginia for emergency surgery," said Roberts. "He left us about eight minutes south of Charlottesville while he was in the helicopter."I would be lying if I didn't tell you it was tough because it's tough."Roberts wants to ask the city to make an exception to the panhandling law. He plans to speak in front of city council September 9th hoping for them to listen to his idea. He doesn't want to change the law, just wants a chance at bringing in more donations to help kids like his grandson RJ."Panhandling is one thing. Panhandlers tend to solicit for themselves generally for their benefit," said Roberts. "But we're talking about our trained safety professionals, some of Lynchburg's finest. They present themselves in uniform."For the right reason and the right exception, exceptions can be made.Could the permit work?ABC 13 looked into the numbers for other cities with an anti-panhandling ordinance. The city of Chesapeake bans begging on their streets,but there are exceptions for the organizations, including the fire department.
Section 46-26, Soliciting in streets reads as follows:
"It shall be unlawful for any person, other than public safety personnel registered and approved to solicit by the city's police department, to be or go upon any street, highway or roadway, or any sidewalk, curb, shoulder or median thereof, for the purpose of soliciting, or attempting to solicit, employment, business, sales of goods or services, or charitable contributions of any kind from the occupants of vehicles in the street, highway or roadway, unless issued a permit to do."
MDA says the Chesapeake IAFF raised $110,000 this year. The city's population is almost three times that of the Hill City, but their drive made almost twice as much as Lynchburg.
"I know that they make less money and that's unfortunate, but I really don't feel that it would be a good idea for city council to change its ordinances based on if they likes a cause as opposed to the core question as to whether or not panhandling in a busy street with traffic operating is a smart thing to have," Mayor Mike Gillette said.
Gillette says the city isn't looking into changing the ordinance. He says it was put in place to keep roads safe."We'd want to make sure that if we were to allow it in the streets, it would be in an area that is safe and that means less traffic less busy, less people. That's precisely not where the panhandlers want to be," said Gillette.
Still, Roberts will go into the meeting next Tuesday with his head held high.
"We're hoping that if we make the request that council will take this to heart and find a way to help their firefighters help people that need the help," said Roberts.