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Fundraiser backfires for pediatric cancer families

Posted at 7:19 PM, Sep 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-14 19:28:10-04

"Flush Away Cancer" was trying to raise money to buy food, restaurant and gas cards for families dealing with the high cost of coping with pediatric cancer.  However, the effort is now changing after a problem in Lewiston.

The fundraiser was started by Jennifer Masse and others with the idea that specially decorated toilets could be sent to requested homes with a note saying they would be removed if a $10 donation was made.  If $15 was paid, the toilet would be moved to another yard, and if $25 was paid, the toilet would be removed without a chance of it coming back.

"They moved from friends to friends houses.  It was fun and was helping others," said Jennifer Masse.

Masse's own 10-year-old son, Andrew, has been battling brain cancer for three years.

"We can attest to how expensive it can be to be in a hospital for a month," said the boy's mother.

Popularity of the toilets, some decorated in Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres decor, was growing until this week.

On Tuesday, Lewiston Police received a call from an upset Saunders Settlement Road resident that one of the toilets was on her lawn.

Unaware of why it was there, or if it was some type of scam or prank, the resident demanded it be moved.

After being contacted, Jennifer Masse said police told her she had to come and take away the toilet or face possible Illegal Dumping charges. Masse said she showed police information she had from the resident's friend requesting the toilet be moved to the Lewsiton home, but the responding officer said the toilet had to go because of the resident's complaint.

"I think what we are going to do is get all of the toilets that are around Western New York, bring them back to our house, and only use them for select fundraising events," Jennifer Masse told 7 Eyewitness News.

Part of the problem seems to involve lack of information about the fundraiser, said Chief Frank Previte, who added that his department is sympathetic to charitable fundraisers.  However, in this case neither the police nor the upset resident knew about it.  The chief explained that one of the pitfalls of doing a fundraising effort like this is that organizers take the chance of trespassing to leave the toilets.

"There can be worthwhile causes but you have to be careful in how you do that.  If you are going to leave something on somebody's property, you generally need their permission to do that," said Chief Previte.

Adding to the concerns are the constant problems of scams looking to get money from victims.  According to the chief, that added to the complainants worries about the painted toilet with a donation request note attached to it.

"That lack of information can cause people to become leery because of the atmosphere of all these things happening," added Previte.

Jennifer Masse said the toilets might still be placed on requested lawns in the future but only after there has been advance warning and acceptance by property owners.

7 Eyewitness News reporter Ed Reilly takes a closer look at what happened.