Presque Isle animal shelter wins new van in online contest

Posted June 22, 2012, at 1:46 p.m.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — When Betsy Hallett, manager of the Central Aroostook Humane Society in Presque Isle, heard about the Toyota 100 Cars For Good contest, she quickly filled out an application to put the facility in the running.

In the back of her mind, however, she didn’t think there was a good chance of winning.

“There were 4,000 or 5,000 applicants,” Hallett said Friday. “And we are located in a small community, so I thought that the cars would probably go to organizations in bigger cities.”

But she was wrong, and she is very happy that she was.

Officials at the organization that provides shelter and care for stray, displaced or unwanted pets learned on Thursday that they had won a brand new Toyota Sienna minivan. The Sienna will replace the facility’s current van, which is so decrepit that rust has eaten holes through the doors.

As part of its Facebook enabled philanthropy initiative, Toyota is giving away 100 cars over 100 days to nonprofit organizations in need. Each day, online voters are given a list of five nonprofit organizations and asked to cast ballots for their favorite.

The contest started 39 days ago. Seven Maine-based nonprofit organizations have been selected as finalists.

Hallett said that she came upon the contest in January as she was browsing the Internet for possible grants or other assistance to replace the current van.

“It is falling apart and I knew that we could not afford to replace it,” she said Friday. “I came across the contest and submitted the paperwork. I did not hear a word until the end of March. A panel narrowed the applicants down to 1,000 and then down to 500.”

Finalists were sent a free video camera to produce a short video for Facebook to introduce their organizations and illustrate need.

The Central Aroostook Humane Society needed a new vehicle for a variety of reasons, according to Hallett.

“We take in around 750 cats and 300 dogs in an average year,” she explained. “We have to take the animals to veterinarians, and three or four times a year, a facility in the Bangor area spays or neuters our pets for free. That saves us thousands of dollars each year, but our current van is not really reliable enough to make that drive too often. We also take animals into nursing homes and veterans homes for the enjoyment of the residents, and we take pets into schools to teach the children how to treat animals humanely and how to care for them.”

The van also is used to pick up donations such as bags of pet food, carriers and more.

Once Hallett learned that the shelter was a finalist, staffers launched a publicity campaign to get people to cast online votes on Wednesday.

“We ended up with 37 percent of the vote, and the organization that came in second place received 34 percent of the vote,” she said. “It was really a close contest, and we did not find out that we won until Thursday.”

The CAHS beat out the Warren Family Mission in Warren, Ohio, which provides free food, shelter, rehabilitation and other services to those in need.

The CAHS was allowed to choose either a Toyota Highlander, Prius V, Sienna, Tundra, Camry Hybrid or Sienna Mobility Van, which is wheelchair accessible.

Hallett said that CAHS will be removing seats from the Sienna to better fit animals and supplies.

Toyota will pick the color of the vehicle, which will be delivered in the next 150 days.

“We really want to thank everyone who voted,” Hallett said Friday. “We really appreciate the support and we were blown away by how many people voted.”

At this point, there are approximately 125 cats and 14 dogs at the Presque Isle shelter.

To date, Toyota has donated more than half a billion dollars to nonprofit organizations across the United States, according to its website.

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