Rutland Plywood fundraisers raise concerns
By Brent Curtis
staff writer | August 27,2014
The Rutland Plywood Family Fund could be a benign social-media fundraising entity devoted to helping employees who lost their jobs in a fire last week.
In the wake of the catastrophic Rutland Town blaze that left 170 people out of work, Rutland Plywood human resources manager Teresa Miele said Tuesday she doesn’t know what to make of the Facebook community page with the stated goal of “Helping those families of the Rutland Plywood.”
But she said the fundraising effort isn’t linked to or sanctioned by her company.
“We don’t know who is doing it,” she said. “No one has contacted us. We don’t know if it’s legitimate or a scam.”
The Facebook page, which was created the same day the factory burned last Thursday, has gathered 115 likes on its creators’ stated effort to help the fire victims.
“Winter is coming and a lot of people are going to be financially strained to the max ... YOU can help make this a little easier on the victims of this disaster,” a post on the page reads.
The site lists no affiliations and provides only scant details about coordinating efforts to bring donations to the victims of the fire.
A woman left a comment on the site questioning the validity of the effort.
“How are you affiliated with Rutland Plywood? Who is administering this page? How are donations being funneled to the families affected by Rutland Plywood?” the poster wrote.
But “Alex” — who identified himself as one of two people involved in founding the site and coordinating the fundraising effort — said the enterprise was above board.
Alex, who said during a telephone interview that he is a business major at Castleton State College, wouldn’t provide his full name or his co-creator’s name because they want to remain anonymous.
“I don’t know how to say to you that this is my good deed for the month,” Alex said after responding to an inquiry left on the fundraising page. “It’s not something where I’m looking to project my name out there.”
Alex said he also didn’t want to identify the 15 to 20 Rutland Plywood employees he said the page has helped because of the privacy interests of the victims.
“Some people are really sensitive about having their names out there,” he said.
Alex did say his site has helped with the movement of as much as $400 in donations of money, food and clothing without ever touching any of the donations.
While he doesn’t know anyone who works at the ruined Rutland factory, Alex said he has been contacted by a number of victims and their families since the fire. He said he puts those people in contact with donors who have sent him messages with offers ranging from baby clothes to money and gift cards.
“All I do is direct the parties to each other,” he said. “I don’t hold any of the money. I don’t want to be burdened by holding money. I just help two people meet each other.”
Asked how he verified that the fire victims contacting him were in fact Rutland Plywood employees, Alex said he asked a few questions but acknowledged he had no way of verifying the identities or work histories of those receiving the donations.
“That’s not 100 percent secure,” he said. “I try to make my best judgment.”
Alex said he has never conducted a fundraising effort like the one he’s running right now. He said he decided to launch the Rutland Plywood fundraising site as both a way to help people and a way to further his education.
He also provided his cellphone number which he said could be given to Rutland Plywood as a means to contact him and verify the legitimacy of his efforts.
Miele said Tuesday evening she would follow up with a phone call.
The Facebook fundraiser is one of two online fundraising efforts proclaiming to raise money for the Rutland Plywood employees.
On the website gofundme.com, a woman identified on the site as Emily Jo has established the Rutland Plywood Employee Fund with the goal of raising $1,000 for the fire victims. As of Tuesday, the site had raised $55 toward that goal.
In a post left on Facebook, Emily Jo wrote that her uncle was a supervisor at the plant and was there during the fire.
“With help from him I can get money to families in need or ways to contact people and use the money for things that families need,” she wrote.
Miele said she had not heard of the gofundme.com effort and had heard nothing from any of her supervisors.
Janet Murnane, director of the consumer assistance program for the Vermont attorney general, said her office has received no complaints about either fundraising effort. But she said people need to be cautious about donating money.
“You know, after every major crisis these days, scam sites turn up,” she said.