Earlier this month, scores of local motorists on their lunch hour drove onto the paved lot at the northeast corner of 22nd and L streets and into a makeshift drive-thru for a sandwich and a side of community service. On this day, proceeds and goodwill benefited the Make-A-Wish foundation. A few weeks earlier, on the same lot, more than $60,000 was raised in just four hours for the Las Vegas massacre victims. A month from now, another nonprofit will occupy the space for the day.
But the ambitious hauls at what has been known for years as “Compassion Corner” wouldn’t be possible without a partnership loosely formed decades earlier by the property owner, the Kern Community College District and its neighbor, KGET TV-17.
“To me, that piece of land is the epicenter for the giving spirit of Kern County,” said KGET anchor and Managing Editor Jim Scott. “The heartbeat of the community is right there.”
The concept is easy: A worthy cause or organization sells food or collects monetary donations and neighboring KGET promotes their organization with live reports within its newscasts.
“We spread the news, and the community opens their wallets and they just keep giving,” Scott said.
But it takes a small army to put these well-oiled fundraising machines into action.
“Local oilfield-related companies provide equipment, canopies, cooks, all part of the team and we couldn’t do it without them,” Scott said.
Recollections differ on when exactly Compassion Corner got its name. But it was former KGET General Manager Ray Watson and then-General Sales Manager Tom Randour who were instrumental in working with KCCD, which also owned the southwest corner lot across the street.
“It was shortly after we moved from our Eye Street headquarters into the new building on L Street in 1997,” remembered Watson.
Compassion Corner’s roots were planted there until demand for parking at the adjacent Weill Institute increased.
Today, the television station helps 14 organizations a year, down from the early days when the effort supported upward of 20 in one 12-month period. And yes, there is a waiting list.
“We are scheduled a year out. I get at least two calls a week inquiring,” said current station Vice President and General Manager Derek Jeffery. He guesstimates that close to a half-million dollars are raised for various organizations over the course of the year.
“This unique partnership has allowed numerous nonprofits an excellent location to conduct charitable events to promote their missions,” said KCCD Chancellor Tom Burke. “In return, these organizations provide services and resources for our community and many of our students that attend our colleges and centers throughout Kern County who may be challenged to meet their basic needs.”
But it isn’t just the funds raised. It is also about the priceless exposure.
“KGET through Compassion Corner has given the community a way to support our organizations,” said Louis Gill, CEO of Bakersfield Homeless Center and Alliance Against Family Violence & Sexual Assault. “We’ve also seen women seeking safety and homeless families come up and ask us for help. It has connected us with the community in ways we couldn’t do alone.”
Scott, dean of local news anchors, has been with KGET 22 years, and never ceases to be amazed by the outpouring of support.
“It’s part of our mission statement that we are a member of the community, too, and what goes on in the nonprofit area is not just something we report on,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of things, but one thing that hasn’t changed in all that time is the strong, giving spirit of Kern County.” ￼
Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lisa Kimble.