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Blue Raider Foundation fundraiser put on hold over alcohol

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 10/3/18

The Middletown Area Blue Raider Foundation hopes to reschedule its Night at the Races fundraiser before the end of 2018 after it was canceled Sept. 22 because of concerns involving an alcohol …

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Blue Raider Foundation fundraiser put on hold over alcohol

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The Middletown Area Blue Raider Foundation hopes to reschedule its Night at the Races fundraiser before the end of 2018 after it was canceled Sept. 22 because of concerns involving an alcohol permit.

Night at the Races — which when first held by the foundation in 2017 raised more than $5,000 to benefit Middletown Area School District students and programs — was to be held Saturday, Sept. 22, in the Lower Swatara Township fire hall on Fulling Mill Road.

Instead, the foundation canceled the event after learning that the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board had received an anonymous complaint late Friday, Sept. 21, because the foundation did not have a “special occasion permit” because the event included alcohol, according to a statement provided to the Press & Journal on Thursday, Sept. 27, by foundation President Joseph S. Swartz.

The cancellation was announced Sept. 22 through the personal Facebook page of Middletown Area School Board President Linda Mehaffie, who is executive director of the foundation. She received a voice mail from a PLCB enforcement officer early Saturday morning, Sept. 22.

“It is a shame that someone will go to great lengths to hurt our students,” Mehaffie posted at the time, referring to the person making the complaint to the PLCB.

Mehaffie declined further comment when contacted by the Press & Journal, pending release of a prepared statement by the foundation.

The foundation had “the appropriate” small games of chance license needed to hold the event, Swartz said in the foundation statement.

However, Swartz said the foundation did not know that a separate license was required to serve alcohol at the event, as all of the wine, beer and food had been donated to the foundation and was to be made available to attendees at no cost.

According to the statement, a PLCB enforcement official told the foundation that even though the alcohol was donated and not being sold, a special occasion permit was necessary because the foundation was charging an admission fee.

“Numerous attempts to reach the PLCB enforcement official on Saturday morning to obtain an explanation of the concerns proved unsuccessful,” Swartz said in the statement. “Since the PLCB enforcement official could not be reached, the Foundation Board decided, out of an abundance of caution, to cancel the event.”

It was not until Sunday, Sept. 23, that Mehaffie got a return call from the PLCB enforcement official who explained the nature of the complaint and provided the explanation regarding the need for a special occasion permit, Swartz said in the statement.

The foundation does not know who made the complaint or if they live in the district, Swartz said in a follow-up phone interview with the Press & Journal.

He said the PLCB said only that the complaint came from “a resident.”

The PLCB also gave no indication as to why the person made the complaint the day before Night at the Races was to be held.

“We’ve been publicizing the event for months now, so I don’t know what prompted it the day before the actual event,” Swartz said. “We can’t control the actions of other people. All we can do is press forward and try to do the best we can for the foundation and for the students.”

Swartz in the statement said that had the person making the complaint reached out to any foundation board member or school district administration “in a timely manner, the proper license could have been obtained and the fundraiser could have occurred as originally scheduled.”

Swartz in the statement also noted that the person making the complaint alleged to the PLCB that high school students would be present during the event as alcohol was being served.

“This allegation is untrue, as this fundraiser is not a student event and no one under age 21 would be admitted,” Swartz said.

Swartz confirmed the foundation did not have a special occasion permit for last year’s Night of the Races event, which included alcohol.

“It’s unclear” to the foundation whether holding last year’s event without such a permit constituted “a violation,” Swartz said. Nor is there any indication that the PLCB plans to penalize the foundation in any way regarding last year’s event, he added.

Swartz further noted there are indications the PLCB would have allowed the foundation to hold the event on Sept. 22 without penalty, with the understanding that the PLCB would “educate” the foundation about needing the permit for holding the event in the future.

“We’re all responsible for thousands of dollars donated to benefit the students,” Swartz said. “We didn’t feel comfortable even if there was a small chance we could incur a fine or regulatory action to hurt our reputation with the community.”

Going forward, Swartz said permitting literature indicates the foundation itself may not qualify for obtaining a special occasion permit, but that such a permit can be obtained by the Lower Swatara Township Fire Company.

As a result, the foundation is working with the fire company to obtain the permit in order to hold Night at the Races at the fire hall later this year.

“The permitting process might take about a month,” Swartz said. “We are working behind the scenes as quickly as we can to get something set up.”

The foundation is also working with the fire company to nail down a date for the event.

One positive outcome of cancellation is that numerous people have reached out to the foundation offering donations.

Mehaffie in her Facebook post referred to the foundation “getting donations left and right because of what this person has done,” meaning the person making the complaint with the PLCB.

Swartz could not say if the foundation has received any money, but noted that foundation trustees have been “hearing from people sympathetic to the situation who have expressed interest in contributing or helping, which is really encouraging.”

“We were real worried about it, because we have a lot of responsibility with what we are trying to accomplish here and we are very hopeful we could bounce back from” the cancelation, “and it looks like we will be able to.”

The Middletown Blue Raider Foundation was created as a nonprofit organization in 2016 to provide a way separate from tax revenue for raising money to support the school district.

The 2017 Night at the Races is the most profitable event that the foundation has held, in terms of raising money, Swartz said. However, it has not been the foundation’s only revenue source.

The foundation held a craft fair in 2017 that it plans to hold again this fall. The foundation has also raised funds from selling mementos tied to the old high school being torn down in 2016 to make way for the new building, such as commemorative mugs and pieces of the old brick and bleacher seats.

The foundation in 2017 funded one student scholarship for $500, but this year was able to fund two $1,000 scholarships thanks to a reserve that has grown to $10,000, Swartz said.

The foundation is starting to award “mini-grants” to fund district educational programs. Swartz said the foundation is also “passionate” in its support for the RaiderPacks program, which provides food to district families in need.