65-year-old Ill. rescue service in danger of closing
AVEC dates to 1948. It began as a water rescue and ground search group because of numerous drownings in the area
By Linda N. Weller
The Telegraph, Alton, Ill.
ALTON, Ill. — A 65-year-old rescue and safety service organization is seeking volunteers and donations as its diminishing number of members considers its future in the next few months.
"We're close, but not quite there yet," said Tracy Merritt, treasurer of Alton Volunteer Emergency Corps, when asked whether the not-for-profit organization is in danger of disbanding. "In the next six months, we will have to make some decisions if we don't get help. It keeps getting worse and worse. We rely on public donations. We don't get any other type of funding."
Merritt said the group is down to seven members, from 15 to 20 several years ago.
AVEC, 2400 Bloomer Drive in Alton, dates to 1948. It began as a water rescue and ground search group because of numerous drownings in the area, Merritt said.
"The building and property was 'given' (for $1) to Alton Volunteer Emergency Corps in return for our promise to keep the organization up and running and to serve the public," she said. "We are still in operation and still provide aid to many emergency agencies and the public, such as water and ground searches, rescue and recovery, natural disaster aid, and we provide safety at local events, free of charge."
She said AVEC got its building in 1965.
Merritt estimated AVEC responded to about 75 calls last year, among them to transport bodies of people who die in car crashes or from suicide or homicide to the Madison County Morgue in Wood River.
"We have a contract with the Madison County Coroner's Office to transport bodies for any type of death that requires an investigation, all unnatural deaths," Merritt said.
AVEC also provides safety services at runs, events on the Mississippi River, and participates each year in the Wood River and Alton Halloween parades.
"There are so many other things we need help with," she said, explaining the need for volunteers.
AVEC, though, still does river rescues and recoveries.
"We have some equipment others don't have, and we can go into spaces they can't, and we can free things up for a house fire or other emergency," she said regarding fire departments that have boats.
"Since the economy has been doing so poorly, our organization has really felt the effects over the past few years," she said. "Money that has been set aside for much-needed building repairs and equipment has had to be used for everyday operations in order to keep the doors open. Membership is at an all-time low, as where people once had time to volunteer, now they have to take on second jobs in order to pay their own bills.
"Our operating expenses alone have increased — taxes, utilities, insurance — leaving us to wonder how much longer we are going to be able remain open. This organization has been open for over 60 years and has provided so much to Madison County and other surrounding counties when called upon. We have always given back to the community, whether it's through volunteering, providing training classes or monetary donations when we have a surplus. We are asking the public's help for support — whether it is financial or volunteering."
Merritt said volunteers must be at least 18 years old, have a valid driver's license and cleanbackground with no felony convictions.
|McClatchy-Tribune News Service|