New Jersey Campgrounds Show Goodwill

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March 1, 2010 by   - () Leave a Comment

You might not expect Philadelphia native Tricia Liberati, 48, to volunteer to raise money for Cape Regional Medical Center in Cape May Court House, N.J. But she has, for almost all of the 18 years she's been spending summers camping in Cape May at Beachcomber Camping Resort, according to the Press of Atlantic City.

"We go around to area businesses and ask for donations of prizes, and have a big fundraiser (auction) at the end of the year," Liberati said. "All season long, we run events to raise money for the hospital. We have bingo. Half the winnings go to the hospital, and the other half to the winners. Everybody in the campground participates."

Beachcomber's fundraising program is particularly impressive, raising $27,000 last season alone. But many campgrounds in the region run similar, if smaller efforts, and contribute to various community groups. At the same time, they help create a sense of community among people who live together just for a few months a year.

Liberati has a very personal reason for participating.

"We use (Cape Regional Medical Center's) facilities when we're there in the summer. My son was very sick when he was little. He had a lot of breathing problems, and we ended up there very often. They were great to us,"

That son, Louis, is 21 now, and a paramedic.

"It might be all that time he spent in the hospital," his mom said, in crediting his choice of career. Daughter Lauren, 24, is a registered nurse, she added.

Beachcomber and Holly Shores Campground and RV Resort in Cape May County lead the way in hosting fund-raising activities and enlisting help from campers. Their owners recently donated funds raised last season and staff is now planning events for next summer.

Beachcomber is owned by Thomas and Claire Brodesser, who personally donated $1 million to the hospital in 2008. Holly Shores in Lower Township is owned by the Brodesser's daughter and her husband, Maggy and Dave Robinson. Real estate developer Thomas Brodesser has been involved with the hospital for about 30 years, as a board member and contributor, said son-in-law Ken Gomez, who runs Beachcomber with his wife Tammy – another Brodesser daughter.

"It's nice to see your dollars used in the community we all live in. Tom was part of the hospital board for a long time. It was a cause he picked up on, and got the campers, merchants and local community involved," Gomez said. "We couldn't do it without the help, support and generosity of both our camping community and the local merchants who work with us and donate prizes, or provide services for our fundraisers. They deserve accolades, as well."

In December 2009, Holly Shores gave $8,334 to a renovation project at the Intensive Care Unit of Cape Regional Medical Center. It's the downpayment on a three-year, $25,000 pledge to the medical center. Maggy Robinson, 54, is former nurse who worked at the hospital in the early 1980s, when it was called Burdette Tomlin. She and her husband bought Holly Shores about 11 years ago. Last year it won Large Park of the Year from the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds ARVC).

"We thought the best way to give back to the community was by supporting the hospital. First we made a three-year pledge to re-do the surgical waiting room," said Maggy Robinson. Her son was injured in an accident a few years back, and they spent some anxious hours in the old waiting room. They wanted to make it a more warm and comforting place.

Their fund-raising efforts grew from there.

Her campground also gives money to other area charities, like Volunteers in Medicine and leukemia groups, she said. It averages about $15,000 a year in donations from campground activities like a haunted hayride, carnival, pig roasts, and other events.

"We also have a no-tipping policy at the campground, so when customers are happy, we ask them to put money into the hospital fund," Robinson said.

In January 2010, Beachcomber gave the hospital a check for $27,000 from campground events. Last year the campground raised $24,000. Over the past 16 years, the campground has raised about $300,000 for the hospital, said Kristin Gallego, marketing director for Beachcomber.

"Pretty much all of our events raise money for Cape Regional Medical Center," Gallego said. "Our first event of the year is Plungapoolooza, on our opening weekend in April. People get sponsored to jump in the lake. Last year that event raised $1,800."

In August the campground will hold a huge auction, where items collected over the season by campers from area businesses are auctioned off to raise more funds. There's a live, silent and special kids auction. That raises another $4,000 a year, Gallego said. A carnival in August, and a Haunted Hayride in the Fall, round out the schedule, along with regular bingo nights. Another big chunk of change comes from raffling off a $6,000 golf cart and a Bingo Mania grand prize of a $4,000 seasonal site fee. Both are donated by the Brodessers.

"All summer long we have fun for a good cause, " Gallego said. "We have a lot of volunteers from our seasonal campers. They know we need help."

"Campgrounds have been part of the community for years, and they try to give back," said Jay Otto of the New Jersey Campground Owners Association, based in Cape May Court House. "There is no coordination by the state association or anyone else. They just take it on their own to do it. Sometimes campgrounds don't know themselves what other campgrounds are doing."

Otto said Big Timber Lake Family Camping Resort in Cape May Court House has allowed volunteer firemen to run bingo for them, and keep the proceeds. And he's heard about Shellbay Family Camping Resort's penny auction that has raised $10,000 for the American Cancer Society. But Otto's sure there are more efforts that he hasn't heard about.

"They don't brag about it," he said.

In southern Ocean County, the Sea Pirate Campground in West Creek hosts an antique and classic car show (this year's event will be June 5) to benefit the Emergency Medical Services of Great Bay, and a chili cookoff (this year June 12)to benefit both Eagleswood and Parkertown volunteer fire companies.

"We raise about $1,000 a year for each of the three organizations," said campground manager Bettiann Minenna.

The campground has run both events for about seven years, she said, as a way of giving back to the community.

"It's homegrown here for us," she said. "We get help from both campers and locals for both events."

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