May 7, 2012 | last updated June 4, 2012 12:10 pm
NONPROFIT NOTEBOOK

Driving Donations | Wishes on Wheels raising smiles, cash for Make-a-Wish

Keith Herzig, owner of Herzig Hauling, LLC

On any other day, it would be a traffic nightmare: an 11-mile line of trucks, buses, and commercial vehicles — nearly 500 in all — on I-84 There were state police, and scores of onlookers.

But for a hundred or so families, Wishes on Wheels, an annual fundraising event to support the Make-a-Wish Foundation of Connecticut, is about hope in the face of a real nightmare: life-threatening childhood illnesses.

Keith Herzig, owner of Columbia-based Herzig Hauling LLC, brought the Wishes on Wheels concept to Connecticut from a similar event in the Bay State. Now in its 13th year, the event has raised more than $690,000 and grown substantially from its early days.

"We started with about 60 trucks in our first year," Herzig explained. "But we've averaged nearly 475 trucks for the past five years."

Much like a walk-a-thon, Wishes on Wheels receives a $20 donation for every truck in the convoy and then drivers collect pledges for each mile driven. Last year alone, the event hauled in $60,000, the largest one-day fundraiser for Make-a-Wish of Connecticut.

But for Herzig, who typically includes most of his company's 23 trucks in the event, Wishes on Wheels is about more than just dollars. "It's about having fun and raising awareness," he said, noting each Make-a-Wish child gets to select a truck to ride in.

And the event is more than just a truck convoy. "We have a carnival at [host sponsor] FedEx Ground in Willington which features bounce houses, exotic animals, and monster trucks," Herzig said. "We try to add something new every year."

That, of course, takes planning, something Herzig says he and his event committee dedicate a lot of time to during the year. "This event has gotten a little easier to plan [with 12 years experience], but we're thinking and talking about it every week of the year," he said.

That's a tall order for a small business owner like Herzig, but he sees it as a responsibility to his community. "It's important to me that [my company] gives back," he said. "It's good for employee morale and it's something the trucking industry takes pride in."

These days, Herzig is actively ramping up support for this September's event. He'd like to get a record number of trucks to participate this year. But his ultimate goal, he says, is to raise $1 million for Make-a-Wish over a 15-year period. He's got a couple years left to make that a reality, but it will take hundreds of trucks to get there.

For many Connecticut travelers, that probably sounds like a traffic nightmare. For Keith Herzig, it would be a dream come true.

Bob's Discount Furniture donates

Bob's Discount Furniture has kicked off a new alliance with Make-A-Wish to help children with life-threatening medical conditions. The company will donate $45,000 in gift cards to help grant wishes to children in all nine states in which Bob's Discount Furniture serves.

Bob's Discount Furniture also was a sponsor of "An Evening of Wishes Gala," a Make-A-Wish Connecticut fundraising event held recently at the Mohegan Sun Casino.

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Recycling event set

Pedals for Progress in Granby is gearing up for its 11th annual used bike and sewing machine collection.

The nonprofit rescues goods headed for landfills and ships them to developing countries. Over the past 21 years, the organization has received, processed and donated more than 133,000 bicycles, 2,000 used sewing machines and over $10.8 million in new spare parts to partner charities in 38 developing world countries.

Pedals for Progress sends the first containerized cargo shipment to a community owned non-profit bike store for free. Depending on the size of the container, the shipment could contain 400-550 bicycles, spare parts and tools, with a commercial value of $25,000 or more. The repair store then earns enough money selling the repaired bikes to pay for the next shipment.

The ripples of Pedals for Progress extend beyond bicycles. P4P partners operate programs in vocational education, youth enterprise development, micro-credit, environmental education, rural health care delivery, and agricultural extension, where bicycles can play a cost-effective role in providing essential services and generating employment.

Pedals for Progress will collect items from noon to 3 p.m., rain or shine, at Holcomb Farm, 113 Simsbury Road. The cost to collect, process, ship, rebuild, and distribute each bicycle is $40. A $10 minimum donation toward shipping costs is necessary.

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In brief

Hoffman Auto Group in East Hartford has donated $11,300 to the Brain Injury Alliance of Connecticut. For every new and used vehicle sold during the month of March, Hoffman made a pledge. The company also adorned vehicles in all locations with ribbons to signify their efforts to raise awareness, and provided customers with educational materials, including tips to promote safe driving… Walmart's Acres for America program has partnered with the Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound to start the Pequonnock River Fishway project in Bridgeport. The project will install a fish ladder in the Pequonnock River to provide safe passage for river herring, trout, sunfish, eel and perch through the urbanized area. The program is a 10-year, $35 million commitment from Walmart to purchase and preserve one acre of wildlife habitat in the U.S. for every acre of land developed by the company… Masonicare has received a $75,000 grant from the Connecticut Health and Educational Facilities Authority to help fund the installation of an electronic medication administration record at Masonicare Health Center in Wallingford.

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