Trekkers and other science fiction fans
are often thought of as people living in fantasy worlds and playing make believe like
small children. Nothing could be further from the truth. While fandom does offer temporary
respite from daily troubles, media and science fiction fans hardly hide from the
"real world." Fans donate their time, money, cherished collectibles, and even
their blood to worthy causes -- from supporting local PBS stations, to the fight against
One beneficiary of fandom support is the Public Broadcasting system
(PBS). These stations provide science fiction programs such as the British serials Blake's
7, Doctor Who, and Red Dwarf. Unlike
other television networks that have commercial sponsors, PBS stations depend on private
donations, corporate sponsorships, and government money for their operation. To keep
favorite shows on the air, local science fiction clubs often donate money to the stations
during pledge drives. They also volunteer to answer the phones during membership drives.
Admittedly, this support can be fleeting. Several years ago, I was a
member of a New Orleans science fiction club called "A Little Bit of England."
The members of this club regularly donated time and money to the local PBS station that
telecast the Doctor Who episodes featuring Tom Baker (the Fourth Doctor). After
airing these older episodes, the New Orleans station did not purchase the rights to the
new episodes with Peter Davison and Colin Baker. The local club transferred its loyalty to
the Baton Rouge PBS station which continued the Who series. Though this station is
ninety miles away, group members happily drove to the station to answer phones in order to
keep Doctor Who and the British fantasy show Robin of Sherwood on the air.
Many fan clubs adopt a favorite charity of the actor they support.
British actor Paul Darrow (Avon in Blake's 7) is a regular sponsor of charities in
both England and the United States. One of his favorite organizations if Canine Companions
for Independence (CCI). CCI trains dogs to assist physically challenged individuals in
living more independent lives. During one Christmas drive, the California-based Paul
Darrow Appreciation Society raised $661 to donate to CCI in Mr. Darrow's name.
Science fiction organizations stage conventions all over the country
and raise thousands of dollars for worthy causes. Some conventions, like MediaWest,
sponsor blood drives and recycling programs. Many conventions support the same charity
year after year. Money raised at the New Orleans Science Fiction and Fantasy Festival goes
to the New Orleans Metropolitan Battered Women's Program. Visions, a British media
convention in Chicago, donates money raised during its charity auction to Lambs Farm, a
community in Libertyville, Illinois for physically/mentally challenged adults.
When hardship or tragedy strikes, fans and convention organizers often
collect money to help. In addition to the regular charity auction benefiting the American
Heart Association, Brits in Space (a St. Louis convention) set up collection buckets for
the American Red Cross. These donations went to aid hurricane victims in South Carolina
and earthquake victims in San Francisco. On a smaller scale, SliCon (held in my home town,
little ol' Slidell, Louisiana) donated $1.00 from each membership sold at the door to a
special fan fund. This particular fund was to benefit science fiction writer Robert Adams
(Castaways of Time, Stairway to Forever) whose cancer treatments left him with
staggering hospital bills.
One enduring relationship between a fandom and a charity is between
ZebraCon and the Pediatric AIDS Foundation. ZebraCon is a convention focusing on the 1970s
cop show Starsky and Hutch. Series star Paul Michael Glaser (Starsky) now enjoys a
successful directing career. Because his work is now behind the camera, many people remain
unaware of the personal tragedy he and his family have suffered. Due to pregnancy
complications, Glaser's wife, Elizabeth, received a blood transfusion tainted with the HIV
virus. She and both children were exposed to the virus. Their daughter Ariel died from
AIDS; Elizabeth and her son continue to battle against this disease. Elizabeth and others
who had lost children to AIDS established the Pediatric AIDS Foundation.
As the Starsky and Hutch fandom became smaller, ZebraCon became
a biannual convention and expanded to include other "buddy" shows such as The
Man from U.N.C.L.E. and the British spy serial The Professionals. But the
original convention charity has never been forgotten. Fund-raising for the Pediatric AIDS
Foundation remains a major focus not only of the convention, but of many fandom pursuits.
Proceeds from a second printing of The Professionals fanzine House of Cards
go to the Foundation. Items donated for auction at this past ZebraCon included Starsky
and Hutch action figures, posters, books, magazines, games, and the record
album recorded by David Soul (Hutch from the series). Media artist Suzanne Lovett
donated a commission piece that sold for over $200.
Science fiction and media fans are usually creative people. They are
thinkers and dreamers. They often dream of worlds without illiteracy, without birth
defects, and without disease. But they do more than just dream -- they donate their time
and money to worthy organizations that strive to make those dreams a reality.
[Note: Ms. Yost's column was cut for length, deleting several worthy groups. See next
issue for more. If you know of a fan/charity connection, write us with details.]