Saturday, Jun 29 2013 11:00 AM

Fireworks big business for nonprofits

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    By Shelby Mack / The Californian

    Jack Heppe sits in the fireworks stand on Rosedale Highway where he is volunteering to raise money for the Kern Kiwanis Club.

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    By Shelby Mack / The Californian

    Sydney, Jacob and Eva Dominguez shop for fireworks at the stand run by the East Bakersfield Lions Club in front of Vons on Stockdale Highway.

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    By Shelby Mack / The Californian

    Randy Cullen tries to convince his father, Jeff, to buy more fireworks at the fireworks stand run by the East Bakersfield Lions Club on Stockdale Highway on Monday evening.

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BY DAVID DICKSTEIN Contributing writer

It's hot work selling fountains and other sparkly attractions out of those wooden stands that dot Kern County parking lots in the days leading up to the most explosive holiday of the year.

But for Kern County nonprofits, service clubs, youth groups, churches and others, it's well worth the sweat involved. Fireworks booths are big business and can make or break an organization's budget for the year.

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"With fireworks, we make what we need for the year by busting our butts over just four days."

-- Harold Tolbert, 4-H club leader

Among the beneficiaries of the fireworks-buying frenzy is Kern County 4-H, which is looking for flat to slightly better numbers from its Phantom stand at the intersection of Rosedale Highway and Old Farm Road.

"We did great last year, best in several years," said Harold Tolbert, who helped the 4-H club make its annual budget with $2,500 in profits from fireworks. "This is our biggest and only fundraiser. Without it we'd have to sell candy, do car washes --the kind of stuff that takes a lot of work over long periods of time. With fireworks, we make what we need for the year by busting our butts over just four days."

Two miles to the east, in the Walmart parking lot at 8400 Rosedale Highway, Bakersfield Alliance Soccer has a goal that will help about 50 kids score goals of their own. The league -- with a target of surpassing the $8,000 netted from sales of TNT fireworks last year -- offers parents the opportunity to work off their child's dues through presale or in the stand.

"It's a way for the families that don't have the big cash to offset the cost," said John Goetjen, who is retiring from chairing the fireworks fundraiser after four years. "We did well last year, selling out of everything by 6 on the Fourth. We even sold about four Big Bangs," he said, referring to TNT's biggest assortment, which costs $500.

Meanwhile, Golden Empire Youth Football hopes to score a financial touchdown from a Phantom Fireworks stand near Hooters, at 4208 Rosedale Highway. Profits will help the Midwest Spartans, Southwest Mojo, Southeast Wolverines, Northwest Falcons and Southern Ravens offset overhead costs to keep fees nominal.

"It takes care of the field, team parties, awards, equipment, referees ...," said fireworks chairman Darryl Dawkins. "A four-day commitment from the families helps us raise money that we'd have to make up in other ways, like a lot of barbecues and car washes, cakes and pies."

North High Band Boosters will run a stand next to 11-C market at 681 Roberts Lane in Oildale. Roughly 100 Star families will find relief in the upcoming competitive season, thanks to the profits from selling Phantom fireworks, according to former booster president Crisey Fernandez.

"The school doesn't provide any money to the band," Fernandez said. "The music program is funded entirely by the boosters. Fireworks help pay for bus travel, music, food -- pretty much everything needed for competition."

TNT and Phantom have a duopoly on the Kern County consumer fireworks market, though Black Cat and Showtime brands will be sold at the Discount Fireworks Superstore at 800 Airport Drive. Funds raised by New Covenant Pentecostal Church of God will go toward subsidizing camp fees for children of needy families.

Other Bakersfield nonprofits getting in on the pyro action include Stockdale High School Band Boosters, which plans to buy instruments and subsidize travel with profits raised at its TNT Fireworks stand next to Jack in the Box at 3300 Buena Vista Road. Calvary Chapel Bakersfield will send youths to summer and winter camps, and help with neighborhood outreach on the proceeds from its own TNT stand in the Walmart Supercenter parking lot at 5075 Gosford Road. Kern Regional Center's Phantom Fireworks location at 4725 Panama Lane will enable people with disabilities to assimilate at conferences, college football games and other social situations as part of the foundation's Meet Your Neighbors program.

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