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Fireworks stands help support Western Pa. causes

| Wednesday, July 2, 2014, 3:41 a.m.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Fireworks stands dot the local landscape this time of year. Some are operated by people raising funds for non-profits and charities.

Like skyrockets on the Fourth of July, fireworks stands have been popping up all over the place for about a week now.

It's no secret these stands sell an array of colorful devices that smoke, screech, whistle and shower sparks when lighted. Fireworks consumers may not realize, however, that some stand operators are selling fireworks to support charitable and other worthy causes.

More and more, churches, soup kitchens and other nonprofit organizations are using seasonal fireworks stands as a fundraising tool.

Kristee Cammack, who has operated fireworks stands for years to raise money for her charitable group, A Giving Heart based in the Allentown section of Pittsburgh, said she counts on money from fireworks sales to help expand the reach of her organization.

Cammack said her initial involvement began about five years ago when she heard about fundraising with fireworks. She said her charity was operating a soup kitchen in a church but wanted to buy a building for her nonprofit and other services.

“We got involved because we needed to raise money to buy a building,” she said. “This is a guaranteed source of income and it's not like you have to put a lot of energy out to do it.”

Cammack, whose charity is operating two pop-up stores this year in shopping areas in Plum and Monroeville and previously has run stands in the Waterfront in Homestead, said, “I don't know why more nonprofits don't do it. It's a lot of work for 10 days but it's well worth the work you do.”

This year, she said she hopes the two stands will net her organization about $7,500. Cammack, who is working as a zone manager for her supplier, Ohio-based Phantom Fireworks, said she will donate her earnings from that job to the charity. The funds are necessary, she said, because the building her organization bought last year along Climax Street needs a new gymnasium floor.

Phantom vice president Jerry Bostocky said his company likes doing business with nonprofits because they have organizational structure and committed volunteers.

“They have the support group in place to man the tents,” said Bostocky, whose company dedicates a portion of its website toward providing information about fundraising. “We provide them with the tent, the permitting and location. They get a percentage of whatever the net sales are,” he said.

Bostocky said about 1,200 nonprofit groups in California operate fireworks stands because state law there forbids individuals and companies from operating them for profit.

Bostocky said the popularity of fundraising with fireworks is growing as “more and more groups are feeling comfortable” with selling them, something he attributes to safer products and changes to state law.

“At one time you couldn't sell any fireworks” in Pennsylvania, he said. “Fireworks have become much safer today than they have ever been. We've reduced injuries by 30 percent while usage is up 80 percent.”

Pennsylvania law allows only ground-based, nonexplosive fireworks to be sold to consumers.

Bostocky said his company sells only products that have been tested by an independent third party. He said company stands provide safety literature about fireworks and do not sell to anyone under 18.

Cammack, whose work as a zone manager takes her to stands all around the region, said she's seen a number of operators using stands to raise money for a variety of purposes.

She said her route includes a stop in Uniontown at a stand operated by students raising money for college and stands in Westmoreland County where an operator is trying to raise money to open a pizza shop.

Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1966.