If you’ve passed through any of the city’s major intersections this week, you know what time of year it is: WHAS Crusade for Children time. Firefighters work the intersections for donations, strolling between lines of traffic at red lights and holding out big rubber boots for change.
Every year since its inception, Crusade for Children has benefitted greatly from regional firefighters’ largesse and their daring in-the-road fundraising.
This fundraising culminates in a weekend-long telethon that starts this Saturday, June 4 at 1 p.m. on WHAS-TV. This year’s headliner is the Teddy Abrams Jazz Band; Abrams is the director of the Louisville Orchestra. The show is free and starts at 7 p.m. at the Kentucky Center for the Arts.
WHAS-TV founded the Crusade for Children in 1954 as a day-long telethon and live event. Now the telethon lasts all weekend and fundraising begins weeks before.
The Crusade celebrated its 60th birthday in 2013. Since its genesis, the campaign has raised more than $165 million, and 100 percent of that money is returned in the form of grants to agencies, schools and hospitals that make life better for children with special needs. The WHAS Crusade for Children is America’s most successful local telethon.
An independent board of interdenominational ministers known as the Crusade Advisory Panel decides how donations are distributed each year.
The firefighters who pass the boot at intersections for Crusade for Children have the whole city from which to choose. Their “Charitable Solicitation Approved Locations” permit is valid for “all intersections.”
The Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville and area fire departments have always served as the largest donors to the Crusade. The Pleasure Ridge Park Fire Department nearly always leads the fire donations with several hundred thousand dollars. Other major donors include LG&E KU, Kosair Charities, Louisville Triple Crown of Running, Norton Healthcare and JCPS.
Originally hosted in the Memorial Auditorium as a live event that drew as many as 6,000 attendees, it moved to the WHAS studios in the mid-1970s after a stagehand strike at the auditorium. It also has been held at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts and the Brown Theatre.
The event first raised over $1 million in a weekend in 1977. In 2002, they added live streaming and the ability to donate online.
Last year, magician Mac King headlined the event, and the Crusade raised $5.67 million.
Doc Severinsen, Aaron Neville, Cab Calloway, Captain Kangaroo, Lee Greenwood, Kenny Rogers, The Neville Brothers and magician Lance Burton have all made appearances on the Crusade over the years. Our very own Diane Sawyer almost made it on the show; unfortunately she came in second place for the 1961 Crusade Queen.