'Carrying on through': Woodford Volunteer Fire Department's annual fundraiser cancelled

Sierra Rains
The 2019 BBQ fundraiser at the Woodford Volunteer Fire Department.

A decades-old tradition for the Woodford Volunteer Fire Department will not be returning this year. 

Woodford Fire Department Chief Jim South said he has been with the department for over 25 years now and the department, founded in 1974, has been holding a BBQ fundraiser for as long as he can remember. However, due to COVID-19, the fundraiser has been cancelled this year. 

“We just didn’t feel comfortable, if we make one person sick it’s just not worth it,” South said. “We just made the decision, along with some of the other departments, to cancel and do the best we can this year and get on through to the next.”

The BBQ dinner is the Woodford Volunteer Fire Department’s only fundraiser of the year, and typically brings in anywhere from $5,000 to $14,000 in donations. Those donations make up a large part of the volunteer department’s budget. 

South said the department receives an operational grant from the state each year, which is used to cover insurance on the trucks and the building. “There’s just a little bit left after we pay the insurance with that grant money,” South said. Aside from donations, the department's only other source of revenue is a county sales tax. 

“We have the county sales tax, but there’s a lot of stuff they don’t pay for like the monthly bills for the station, the monthly upkeep for the station, repairs and stuff like that,” South said. “That’s the reason that we continue to have fundraisers. We cannot buy fuel for the trucks with the county money, so all of that has to come out of our budget.” 

Before cancelling the fundraiser— a primary source of revenue for financing repairs and monthly expenses— South said the department looked over its budget to make sure it would be feasible. The decision was made after members agreed that they would have enough funds without the fundraiser to continue business as usual. 

“We’ll be fine,” South said. “That was part of helping us make our decision was the fact that we were able to carry on through. We weren’t going to lack in any coverage or any response or anything due to this.” 

Volunteer fire departments like the Woodford department are often some of the first to be on scene in more rural areas during emergencies. Without these smaller departments, South said residents would be waiting on first responders from larger, neighboring cities for far too long. 

“Sometimes they don’t have that long. Sometimes if a fire’s at a wreck or there’s a fire heading towards your house, they don’t have that kind of time to sit around and wait,” South said. “So it’s important that these smaller departments keep operating and are able to get out there and help their community.” 

South said many people have already reached out to donate to the department in place of the fundraiser, and any amount helps. “If somebody would like to donate we would really appreciate it, it would be great,” South said.  

Individuals can donate to the Woodford Volunteer Fire Department by contacting one of the department’s members or mailing their donation to PO Box 334, Springer, Oklahoma 73458. South said the department is hoping to hold the fundraiser again in 2021. 

“I’d just like to thank everybody for their continued support, the people in our area have all been great,” South said. “They’ve come out to help and support us. You just can’t beat the people out here.”