Raising Roofs, Raising Awareness

Raising Roofs, Raising Awareness

Shell station fund-raiser supports Fisher House Foundation for U.S. troops.

Scott Brown said he decided to run a fund raiser for the Fisher House foundation at his Shell gas station in Cardinal Forest Plaza as much to raise awareness as to raise money. "I'd say only about 20 percent of the people who come in here know what the Fisher House is," said Brown.

The foundation builds houses of eight to 21 suites near military hospitals, where soldiers' families can live while the soldiers are being treated. Often, troops who are outpatients live in the Fisher Houses with their families.

"Fisher House is, in my opinion, the very best charity in the entire world," said Brown. "Whether you agree with the war or not, you just can't do enough for those guys," he said of the wounded troops.

Throughout the month of May, Brown is donating a penny to the foundation for each gallon of gas the station sells. He said he expects to move about 400,000 gallons this month, which would bring the donation to $4,000. He has also placed pamphlets and donation envelopes on all of the pumps and put empty jugs soliciting donations near the cash registers. "It's by far the biggest thing we've done for charity," he said, noting that the station's fund-raising drives have normally lasted for a day or a weekend.

So far, he said, the event has been a success. A week-and-a-half into the drive, he had already had to order more donation envelopes and literature. The bottom of the jug that had only recently been placed on the counter of the station's shop was littered with $1 bills and at least one $5 bill. Brown said the station has received generous support in its effort from the Shell Oil Company and added that he hopes to repeat the drive every year.

THE STATION HAS achieved some local fame for its ostentatious d├ęcor and landscaping and is now decked out for the drive with characteristic zeal. A huge, inflatable, star-spangled eagle perches on the garage. American flags have been planted around the property's periphery. At night, strings of red, white and blue lights wrapped around the garage blink in time with patriotic music piped through the station's speakers and broadcast within a 50-yard radius on 100.7 FM. "We'll add more stuff to this next year," Brown assured.

As usual, most of the decorating is the work of Brown's brother, Doug. "It's a really cool charity," said Doug Brown, noting that almost all of the money donated is spent on the houses.

Fisher House Foundation spokesman Jim Weiskopf confirmed that only a few pennies of every dollar raised are spent on administrative costs. "The biggest thing we try to do with our money is build new Fisher Houses," he said. Started in 1990, the foundation has now donated 37 houses to the Army, Navy, Air Force and Department of Veterans Affairs, including two in Germany, said Weiskopf. Six of the houses are here in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. Each house, he said, costs $3.5 million to $4.5 million to build. Because the houses are built on government property, no land costs are incurred.

As a private, nonprofit organization, the foundation depends largely on donations, with the founding Fisher family of New York being the largest single donor, said Weiskopf. "Largely, the American people have identified with what we're doing," he said, noting that Brown "contacted us. We didn't contact him." He said the foundation also receives grants from the federal government, through Department of Defense appropriations.

Each family staying in a Fisher House lives in an individual suite, and the common area includes a kitchen, living room and dining room. Having a family member receiving care at the adjacent hospital is the only criterion for eligibility, said Weiskopf. He said some houses had previously charged families $10 per night and waived the fee for families of soldiers wounded in combat, but the foundation has raised enough money to have all fees waived.

Weiskopf said the foundation hopes to build 21 more Fisher Houses in the next four years, because, with troops fighting overseas, the need for them has increased.

Brown said he hoped increased awareness would bring the foundation more donors in the future. "I'm hoping that next year we won't be the only station doing this," he said.