Damaging act spoils worthy mission for club

Vandals, taggers and graffiti sprayers have left an ugly mark throughout the city of Auburn this summer, especially on its spacious parks.

The latest to be victimized is the Auburn Optimist Club and its contracted concession stand with the city at Game Farm Park. Vandals ransacked the west-side stand for a fourth time last Wednesday, stealing food, snacks and money from a tip jar while spraying a fire extinguisher inside.

A second concession stand on the other side of the park also was vandalized. That stand served ice cream, supporting Don Stevenson’s walk across America for the Huntington’s Disease Society of America.

The repeated break-ins have forced the club to restock its product twice and replace heavy locks three times. And that’s a downright shame for a group of volunteers committed to supporting youths and activities throughout the city.

“We are all saddened and discouraged,” said Joe Jenkins, a past president and current public relations officer for the Optimists. “It’s a shame. It’s not like we’re a big profit organization, but this just hurts the kids of Auburn and their families.”

The damage was severe enough that the club decided to close it down for the rest of the season, about halfway into its usual fundraising campaign. The Optimists traditionally run the stand – exclusively behind a volunteer work force – from April to October to raise money for club-sponsored programs, including scholarship support for graduating high school seniors.

The stand has generated close to $10,000 in past years. Not so this year.

The popular shack offers hot dogs, sodas, candy and other snacks to sports groups using the fields during the summer and fall. It is considered a long tradition in Auburn and something kids and families depend on.

“It sponsors our baseball and soccer teams and helps with scholarship funds,” said Kayla Sargent, Optimist Club vice president who chairs the concession stand effort. “But now we won’t be able to help the (fall league) soccer kids this year.

“We just want to get the word out that we won’t be open,” she said. “We’re sorry for any inconvenience. Maybe the community might know something, know of someone who did this.”

Confounded police continue to work on the problem, but it is difficult to contain, especially during the school-free summer season. Police patrol parks, but they are not always there around the clock.

The Optimist Club understands this, but remains concerned. It is making plans to reopen the stand again next year with a few changes.

“We won’t open unless we have an alarm system,” Sargent said.

Parks staff is entertaining ways to improve security and surveillance.

The club intends to be back in business. The fact the stand is closed will remain a disappointing void come game days.

“Fortunately, we don’t keep money there. We haven’t lost hundreds of dollars,” Jenkins said. “But it’s more of a loss

of the product, and it’s damaging to the kids.

“The Optimist Club brings out the best in kids,” Jenkins said.

Sadly, it brings out the worst in others.

Mark Klaas can be reached

at 253-833-0218, ext. 5050,

or mklaas@reporternewspapers.com

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