HARPSWELL, Maine — For 27 years, the auction and yard sale has provided critical funding for the nonprofit volunteer Orr's and Bailey Islands Fire Department (OBIFD) operations.
The event, held at the height of the summer, also gave year-round and seasonal residents of the islands, including the tip of Great Island in Harpswell, an opportunity to come together as a community.
With such a gathering impossible this year in light of the coronavirus pandemic, the fire department has taken the auction online, hoping to generate close to the approximately $50,000 raised at last year's event, or even a fraction of the $150,000 needed to meet the department's $225,00 operating budget.
As of Wednesday morning, bids totaled just more than $10,000.
"We don't believe we're going to get anywhere close to $50,000 out of it, but it's important we be as successful as we can be," Doug Warren, spokesman for the department's board of directors, said of the auction, which continues through Sunday evening.
To that end, organizers have a wide array of items to bid on, from a 1976 C&C 26-foot sailboat to a one-week safari in South Africa, art, antiques, blueberry pies, and even a raffle for the opportunity to sign the case of a vintage pair of roller skates. The prize—a tradition in the community— reportedly sells most years for $500 to $1,000.
As with its two other volunteer departments, the town of Harpswell purchases firetrucks and ambulances for the OBIFD, but the Department is responsible for maintaining them. This year, the department's stipend from the town was increased from $60,000 to $75,000, but Warren, of Orr's Island, said costs are increasing rapidly.
With fundraising becoming more difficult, the department is launching a program hoping to attract "sustaining donors" who would pledge funding for several years.
"We're talking to people, many of whom are seasonal residents, who because they have a second home might have a certain level of income, and we're trying to explain to them how important the work of the first responders is and how it's funded," Warren said.
That importance was perhaps never more apparent than this summer, as volunteer EMTs don personal protective equipment to transport the islands' largely-elderly population for medical calls during a pandemic, and were among the first on scene last month when a woman was killed by a shark while swimming off Bailey Island.
"It's very important to fund the department, particularly when, as we've seen, the work the first responders do every day, in situations like the shark attack," Warren said. "We can't thank the first responders enough, with the amount of work they do, the training they have to do, and the equipment they need."
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