PARC tries new ideas for funds

The charity that helps retarded children is widening its strategies to include fancy gowns and travel service.

Published August 13, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - The Pinellas Association for Retarded Children probably is one of the last places a couple would think of to shop for a wedding dress or book a honeymoon.

Now, through two of the organization's new money-making ventures, they can do both.

PARC recently opened its own agency, World Escapes Travel, which offers do-it-yourself online bookings along with personal service. It also employs some PARC clients.

A buyer searching the Internet for discounted fares can log on to a Web site for options. PARC receives a commission on purchases.

"Every time a travel service is booked through the Web site, we receive a portion of the proceeds," said Kelli Caputo, the charity's director of public relations.

Those who prefer to have travel agents guide them through the process can schedule a consultation.

Meanwhile, PARC reopened its thrift store earlier this month, adding updated displays and wedding, vintage and art boutiques.

The organization recently received more than 1,000 new evening dresses and wedding gowns from Boulevard Fashions, a Pinellas Park bridal shop. The business closed when the owners retired, and they donated the remaining inventory to the thrift store.

The vintage department showcases gently worn named brand clothing.

Art is the work of clients in PARC's Fine Arts Studio, with a focus on ceramics and painting.

Furniture remains the store's top seller, Caputo said. And the organization offers donation pickups.

PARC serves about 600 clients throughout the Tampa Bay area and offers prenatal counseling as well as programs designed to help disabled people of all ages.

Rising gasoline prices alone are taxing the organization's resources: Caputo said PARC makes between 11,000 and 12,000 trips per month, using a fleet of about 40 vans and a few leased or donated automobiles to transport clients. All told, the vehicles log well over 400,000 miles a year, she said.

As with other nonprofits, it struggles financially.

"We have to think of new and fresh ways to bring in fundraising dollars," Caputo said.

PARC has launched still another campaign, a cell-phone collection program. Through Shelter Alliance in Miramar, wireless telephones are recycled, and participating charitable organizations receive money for each donation.

PARC is accepting old cell phones at its administrative office, 3190 Tyrone Blvd. N, and at its thrift store. In addition, it is asking individuals, corporations and civic groups to help with collections.

World Escapes Travel, at 3100 75th St. N, is open by appointment from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. To book travel online: www.ytbtravel.com/parctravel. For information, call 345-9111, ext. 6406.

The PARC Thrift Store, at 5825 66th St. N, is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. For information, call 541-4493.