Donations needed to save fireworks

Celebrating America doesn’t come cheap, and for the 19th consecutive year Matt Chambers is scrounging for money to support Freeland’s fireworks show held the night before Independence Day.

“We need more funding,” said Chambers, looking thinner, a bit grayer, and sporting a short beard he didn’t have 19 years ago. “We’re shaking every bush; every bit helps.”

Like last year, Chambers, the veteran pastor of the South Whidbey Assembly church, is looking to pry loose $30,000.

Of that amount, Chambers said $20,000 goes toward fireworks, $5,000 to the Sheriff’s Office for security and $2,000 to a transportation company to bus passengers back and forth to the crowded Freeland Park.

The remainder pays for various other activities, such as games and entertainment, at the day-long July 3 celebration, which has become a sentimental tradition for hundreds of South Whidbey families.

Homeowners around Holmes Harbor throw parties to await the fireworks show when darkness descends and parking spaces around the harbor are at a premium.

Corners had to be cut simply to keep the budget at $30,000, Chambers said. A motorized barge will not be rented from which to stage the fireworks show this year. Instead, Nichols Brothers Boat Builders, based in Freeland, will tow in a barge from its Langley facility.

Also, Freeland’s Olsen family, which helped start the show with the late Mick Olsen who was followed by his son LeRoy, won’t be involved in this year’s fireworks due to budgetary and manpower considerations. Instead, Celebrate America’s fireworks show will be handled by Western Fireworks, based in Aurora, Ore.

Chambers said the company puts on fireworks shows for the Seattle Sounders and Seahawks and will be busy with 300 shows on the West Coast over this year’s Fourth of July.

Making this year’s fundraising effort particularly difficult is the continuing recession and loss of $5,000 from a traditional generous donor. “We can’t take a $5,000 hit in the church’s general fund,” Chamber said.

He’s asking anyone who has enjoyed the fireworks show in past years to donate, as well as homeowners around the harbor and the business community.

“The event only happens when hundreds of people give small amounts to support the event,” Chamber said. “We need every individual and business to contribute towards the cost.”

Donations may be mailed to Celebrate America, P.O. Box 1449, Langley, WA 98260, or go online to and use the “online giving” link.

There isn’t a lot of time to spare, said Chambers, worried that the tradition he started may be facing its end. “Sometime in early June we’ll make the call — do we do it or not do it?”




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