La Porte, Ind., Mayor Mark Krentz shows his coupon for discounts at the body shop. Customers who donated to the cause received the coupon.
Rising cases of opioid overdoses in the area prompted Cannon’s Automotive Service in La Porte, Ind., to choose the county sheriff department’s Drug Task Force as its charitable cause for 2017. The independent service and repair shop sought to lure customers by offering a package of heavily discounted services to those who donated $50 to the task force. Based on its experience with a similar campaign, it aimed for sales of 1,000 packages.
But customers didn’t bite.
Nobody denies that opioids are a problem locally. “It seems like every week, we’re hearing on the radio about someone in our community having a bad experience with these drugs — either an overdose, a trip to the hospital or a death,” co-owner Eric Smith, who suggested donating to the task force this year, told Automotive News.
The group launched the campaign at the end of September. As of Dec. 21, it had sold 210 packages, raising $10,500 for the cause — nowhere near its $50,000 goal.
Customers who donated received discounts on oil changes, tire rotations and alignment repairs. Co-owner John Alexander estimates that in total, the deals cost the shop around $180 per package.
“We thought that more people would want to support the cause,” Alexander said. “The community is well-aware of the problem. No one seems to want to step up and offer a solution.”
La Porte County Sheriff’s Capt. Mike Kellems wrote Automotive News in an email: “Law enforcement has stepped up to fight this issue. However … it is a costly battle. We also firmly believe that education and treatment play just as [strong] a role in solving the issue.”
Kellems said there also has been an uptick in meth and cocaine use in the area, as well as crimes related to drug use. La Porte is in rural northwest Indiana, between Gary and South Bend.
About 10 years ago, the shop ran a similar-scale promotion, donating $32 to the Red Cross. After several months, it had sold 1,000 packages.
The 2017 promotion, which was offered at the company’s two service locations in La Porte, was advertised on the radio, social media and signs around town. “We had banners printed. We have a digital billboard at our other location,” Smith said. “The sheriff’s department promoted it. The interest isn’t as widespread as it was with the Red Cross.”
Slow to respond
Kellems said he’s not sure why the community had been slow to respond to the auto shop’s outreach efforts, adding that he went in for an oil change.
“There has been a lot of community awareness with the drug issues, and it is bothersome that people haven’t been taking advantage of this opportunity,” he said.
Said Smith: “Why we haven’t had more interest — we don’t know. Oil changes are like haircuts — everybody needs one. There’s nowhere around you can get an oil change for $12.50.”
While the task force hadn’t earmarked the funds already raised, Kellems believes the proceeds would be divided among education, treatment and enforcement efforts.
“We are very [appreciative] of the efforts John and Eric have made in this venture. We have long felt that law enforcement … cannot win this battle without the support of our citizens,” he said. “What Cannon’s Automotive is doing is the best we can ask for out of the community, and we are grateful.”