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Normal firefighters union to seek new recipients for gun raffle proceeds as Baby Fold backs away

The Normal Firefighters Local 2442 union has supported The Baby Fold for nearly 30 years, typically donating about $10,000 a year. The union also donates money to many other causes.
WGLT file
The Normal Firefighters Local 2442 union has supported The Baby Fold for nearly 30 years, typically donating about $10,000 a year. The union also donates money to many other causes.

The president of the Normal firefighters union says they will find a new beneficiary for proceeds from their gun raffle, after The Baby Fold raised concerns and distanced itself from the annual fundraiser.

The Normal Firefighters Local 2442 has done the raffle for about eight years and, most recently, has sent the proceeds to The Baby Fold as part of its Christmas Rescue Run. It’s marketed as a gun raffle — with one gun raffled off per day in February, including semiautomatic rifles and pistols — though winners are, in reality, given cash or gift cards to sporting goods stores.

The Baby Fold recently heard some complaints from the community about the raffle, said Aimee Beam, vice president of development and public relations at The Baby Fold. Beam said she wasn’t personally aware of the raffle until recently and that the organizations don’t coordinate it together.

“It allowed me to have good conversations with those guys, and I think their heart was in the right place thinking they were doing something good for kids and families, and it allowed me to explain a few things to them that they hadn’t really thought of,” Beam said.

Firearms recently became the No. 1 cause of death for children in the U.S., surpassing motor vehicle deaths and those caused by other injuries, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“They know The Baby Fold will not participate in or take any proceeds from a gun raffle,” Beam said.

An online flier promoting the 2023 gun raffle.
Normal Firefighters
An online flier promoting the 2023 gun raffle.

Union's future with The Baby Fold

Tickets are sold and it’s too late to make changes to the 2023 raffle, said Matt Hill, an executive board member and former president of the Firefighters Local 2442. But after conversations with The Baby Fold, yet-to-be-decided changes are planned for 2024 and beyond, Hill said.

The union has supported The Baby Fold for nearly 30 years, typically donating about $10,000 a year, Hill said. (The union also donates money to many other causes.)

“It’s definitely not a program we’d want to jeopardize,” Hill said. “That’s why we’re willing to take a look at it.”

Added Beam: “(The firefighters) are big supporters of kids and families, and they are very generous to the community.”

The episode has "negatively affected" the union's relationship with The Baby Fold, said current union president Matt Steinkoenig. He said that was "because of certain individuals who do not like how we conduct our fundraising efforts. And in fact they have now put into question the ability for families in our community to receive these funds and help with Christmas for those in need going forward."

The union has considered using proceeds from its annual golf outing instead to support its Rescue Run. But it's unclear whether they'd be able to raise as much money, and it's an event that can be impacted by the weather, Steinkoenig said.

The gun raffle itself is expected to continue, albeit with a different beneficiary, Steinkoenig said. It's been a successful fundraiser for many years due to marketing the tickets to people who enjoy hunting, fishing, and other outdoors activities, he said. "A large part of the firefighting, police, military, etc. communities enjoy these types of activities," he said.

"We fully intend on continuing to have our annual gun raffle going forward, but the charities that receive those funds are yet to be determined," Steinkoenig said.

Rebranding opportunity?

Gun raffles are not new, and neither are criticisms of them.

Concerns about the Normal firefighters’ raffle have resurfaced recently among some members of the McLean County chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said chapter leader Karen Irvin. The Moms as a group didn’t take any formal action or opposition, she said.

“The bottom line is, we want The Baby Fold to get money,” Irvin said. “Nobody’s questioning the good intentions of the firefighters union.”

But the optics of the gun raffle were “pretty terrible,” Irvin said. She cited WGLT’s recent interview with Bloomington Police Chief Jamal Simington, who noted a soaring prevalence of guns in the community — with at least 20% of guns seized by police directly known to have been stolen in residential burglaries or vehicle thefts. Both Bloomington and Normal saw a fairly significant increase in gunfire incidents in 2022, including five deaths and 12 injuries.

Since the raffle is actually only giving out gift cards and cash anyway, Irvin said it’s a good opportunity for some creative rebranding. The firefighters could call it a Sports Equipment Auction, or even raffle off high-end safes to promote secure gun storage. Moms Demand Action pushes safe storage through its Be SMART program.

“There are a lot of creative ways you can do good work with a little bit of rebranding and remarketing of how this money will be raised,” Irvin said.

Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.