The unexpected generosity of donors expanded an effort to equip local gillnetters with inflatable raingear suspenders.
Organizer Randa Szymanski said this week she’s received about 250 individual donations totaling more than $31,000. “The money just keeps coming in,” Szymanski said.
The donations bought 173 pairs of inflatable suspenders, 100 inflatable vests and 100 throw-line bags. The bags prevent tangling of 100-foot lines attached to life rings. Szymanski started handing out the safety items at the boat harbor last week.
The effort to outfit fishermen came after the July 4 drowning death of drift gillnet fisherman Dick Boyce. “We were overwhelmed by the response,” Szymanski said. “I think it struck a chord with people that this is something positive they could do out of this tragedy.”
After the effort was publicized, donations came from all over the world, including from strangers. “These are people who don’t know Dick, or Haines, and are not connected to the fishing industry, who picked up the story,” Szymanski said. “It’s pretty amazing.”
The suspenders are intended for gillnetters, whose nets tend to become entangled in items worn on the chests. Vests will go to other commercial fishermen in other gear groups and to charter skippers, she said.
Once commercial fishermen are covered, remaining gear will be sold at cost to the public, with proceeds benefitting “Kids Don’t Float,” a free, life-preserver loan program at the harbor.
Szymanski said Taylor Tech, a company in Hammond, La., brought in a work crew to work on a Saturday to put together the throw-line bags and ship them to Haines within a week of the order. “Those people were amazing,” she said.