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Local Feature

"The Little Depot
That Could...
How Kingsburg is transforming a community
icon into a regional hub one donation at a time.

words by Jolene Polyack
I
mages by Frankie Leal


In 2006 - Del Monte donated $25,000 to the Friends. This turned out to be the most important cornerstone of the renovation project’s fundraising efforts. It was a signal that prompted other large local businesses to donate similar amounts.

2006-2008 - After realizing that state and federal grant money would not be obtained for several years, the Friends looked to residents for contributions. The challenge was getting residents to believe the Depot would or even could be saved. People didn’t want to give money to a project that might not ever get off the ground.
2008 - A sense of urgency ensued because the roof had deteriorated to a point where there was no protection to the interior of the building. It was determined that without a new roof, the Depot would not be in adequate shape to renovate within the next year or two at the most. The Friends asked me to help with the project. I agreed and asked Barbie Shakespeare to join the effort. We then began talking to our contacts, asking, ‘If you were us, how would you go about raising enough money to renovate the Depot?” What transpired was a culmination of many, many people’s ideas and suggestions. Here is our journal:

Spring 2008 – One thing we noticed was that people who had lived here all of their lives were the ones who were most likely to not believe in the project. They had watched the Depot deteriorate over the past 24 years and felt it was hopeless. Gang Nail Truss Company had donated the trusses for the project. We asked if they would drive a truck down the parade route of the Swedish Festival with some of our trusses on it. We thought if people saw we had the trusses, perhaps they would begin to believe. We also opened the Depot for tours that weekend. The community needed to understand that only the roof was shot. The rest of the building was in pretty good shape. We even rented a miniature train to give people rides to and from the Depot. Then, we launched the “Adopt a Truss” campaign where, for $100, you could pay for a truss to be installed, be invited to a Truss Signing Party and have your name engraved on the Depot’s donor wall.

Summer 2008 – Yard signs were placed strategically around Kingsburg. The slogan “Get on Board” was surrounded by a blue train. The signs were planted over a two day period so that it would look like an unveiling. We then mailed out a direct mail piece explaining the project and asking for donations. From this mailing alone, our P.O. Box was filled with checks that stacked 8 inches high.

The Fresno Bee ran a feature article in the Local section about the Depot. This article landed the Friends with a donation from Fresno Roofing that would have cost the Friends $35,000 if paid for in cash. Additionally, we received several hits to our website and more donations.
Fall 2008 – Work began on the Depot. Most of the Friends were overcome with joy. This was the combined effort of hundreds of individuals over 24 years. To actually have work begin was very exciting. There would be absolutely no stopping us now. Justin and Lindsey Roman, a 5th and 3rd grader, helped us launch the “$$$ 4 The Depot” campaign. Del Monte donated slotted cans which were given to over 1,000 school children who took the cans trick-or-treating with them. When the cans were turned in and the money counted, over $5,000 in change had been donated by the community.

Winter 2008 – We invited everyone who had donated to the project thus far to a Truss Signing Party. We were amazed at how many people came. We served hot chocolate and the Valley Cats played music. It was a fun event. After it was over, most of the trusses had been signed with family member’s names, drawings and well-wishes. It was a very special event. Our Christmas promotion was, for $100 the recipient would receive their name on the Depot’s donor wall and a Fitz & Floyd Christmas Ornament.

Spring 2009 – We had a Garden Tour fundraiser coordinated by Barbie. We hosted the Chamber Mixer in May and the Swedish Queen, Lexie Zanovitch, created a presentation regarding the stories of the Depot. She went to several schools, conducted Depot storytelling and raised several thousand dollars for the Depot. We had a donor offer to give $23,000 if we could raise $13,000 in 90 days. We launched another direct mailing and raised $10,500 through that direct mail effort. A corporate donor provided us with the remaining $2,500 with two weeks to spare.

Summer 2009 – A licensed mason offered to rebuild the fireplace, furnishing all of the materials and labor at no charge. The second story is nearly complete. Fresno Roofing is standing by in order to install the new roof, which has already been purchased. The Hi Life Restaurant offered a $3 donation to the Depot per entrée sold. Other businesses have begun to consider similar promotions as a way to raise money for the project. Save Mart SHARES cards are used by residents and bring in hundreds of dollars each month.

Today – Over 800 families and businesses have contributed to the Depot since the Spring of 2008. It is completely a community project now. Even most of the naysayers are now counted amongst the contributors. The single most successful element of the campaign has been the donor wall. We have a slab of marble taken from the Depot. It will be mounted outside of the building and people who have donated $100 or more will have their names on it. Many people want their family names on this donor wall so their future generations will know they contributed. The larger the contribution, the larger the family or business name will be on the wall. We will close the donor wall opportunity in the near future so we can begin the engraving process.

Once finished, the Depot will be a community gathering place. The northern grand entrance will be a multi-modal transportation hub, initially for buses. The middle section will be a hands-on living museum where visitors will see a slice of life from the late 19th century, including a working telegraph. The far southern part of the Depot will be a 92 seat theater where school children from across the Valley will come to learn about trains, transportation, the San Joaquin Valley, and local Indians. When not in use for school field trips, the theater will be available for tourists to learn about all of the things there are to do in the region including the Blossom and Fruit trails, Yosemite and Kings Canyon National Parks, etc. On the southern deck, parties, concerts and other community events will take place.

Even in the middle of difficult economic times, the Kingsburg community has pulled together to make the renovation possible. People from all walks of life have contributed in many ways. The Friends thank every single person for doing their part.

If you would like to contribute to the Depot project, call Jolene at 559-284-2421. Or, visit the web site www.kingsburgdepot.org.

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