BANGOR, Maine — Although it only has been on the road only since mid-July, the Ice Cream for a Cause van is already racking up miles to help raise funds for worthy causes. The white van decorated with brightly colored circles plays tinkly music and sports an ice cream bar on the roof.
At the recent Bangor Sidewalk Art Show, it raised $374 for the Maine Discovery Museum. The same day it visited Brandon Bouchard’s birthday party in Hermon, where partygoers helped raise another $60 for the museum — all in service to the van’s mission to have fun, do some good and make people smile.
The van holds 1,000 pieces of packaged ice cream, including cones, bars and sandwiches. The van also stocks treats for those who can’t eat dairy products.
And that’s only the tip of the ice cream cone. So to speak.
“The ice cream is free,” said Ron Russell, director of Bangor operations at Darling’s, the car company that launched the effort. “People donate what they want.” Thus, there is no set goal for amounts raised. People drop whatever amount they wish through the slot of the container fixed to the van.
Russell said anyone who wants to raise funds may schedule a visit from the van.
“If you are having a spaghetti supper to raise funds for someone in need, we’d love to be dessert. No event is too small,” he said.
The idea for the truck arose during brainstorming sessions at Darling’s Augusta location when management was seeking ideas to heighten the company’s brand recognition in Maine’s capital city. One employee told a story about how in his youth he bought an old bread van, stocked it with peanut butter and bread and drove it to Grateful Dead festivals and concerts. His aim was to sell peanut butter sandwiches to earn enough to attend the concert. Riffing on that idea, those at the meeting decided on ice cream instead of peanut butter and the concept soon morphed into Ice Cream for a Cause.
Darling’s purchased a government surplus van and the company’s technicians and mechanics at its Augusta location transformed the vehicle into an ice cream parlor on wheels.
Since July, Ice Cream for a Cause has raised money across Maine to benefit The Last Stop Horse Rescue; United Way of Eastern Maine; Kennebec Valley United Way; B.A.A.R.K., a canine cancer charity; Staff Sgt. Travis Mills, who lost both arms and legs in Afghanistan; Haily Mello of Winterport, a 23-month-old suffering from a severe infection; Katahdin Transitions, which provides meals to children in need; and an animal shelter.
In the coming weeks, Ice Cream for a Cause will raise funds to benefit the Children’s Miracle Network, Komen Race for the Cure, Lungs for Shawn, Gardiner Area High School-Drive Out Cancer, United Bikers of Maine Toy Run, Alzheimer’s Association, New England Chapter of ALS, Camp Capella, Ridin’ Steel Bikers Against Bullying, Champion the Cure, Gardiner Youth Hockey and several other fundraisers.
“The list keeps growing,” Russell said. The van also is available to make stops at parking lots of businesses that want to raise funds for a particular charity.
But even as the van does good work for good causes, it has become the recipient of generosity. The Blueberry and Cumulus broadcasting companies have donated 800 public service announcements about Ice Cream for a Cause, and Cumulus also made a monetary donation, Russell said.
The van is driven by Darling’s employees, including John Browning of Brewer. Employee Bryan Lackee of Bangor dresses up as an ice cream bar and spreads cheer as “Ice Cream Man.”
“I’m starting to think that next year we could raise $30,000-$50,000 for a variety of charities,” Russell said. “We’ll go as long as people want us.”
The Ice Cream for a Cause van is available seven days a weeks through October. For information or to request a stop, visit http://icecream.darlings.com.