LOMITA — When a PTA here sponsored a school fund-raiser last November, Shirley Jenkin walked her first-grade son from door to door in their Lomita neighborhood to peddle the group's wares--chocolate Santas, acrylic Christmas ornaments, even winking George Washington banks.
"My son sold $65 worth," Jenkin recalled. "He was very proud."
The first-grader's salesmanship was matched by many of Eshelman Avenue Elementary School's 740 other students, who brought in more than $17,000 during the 2 1/2-week sale. It was a record fund-raiser for the Eshelman PTA.
If only the PTA had gotten its money.
"We had been just ecstatic that the students and parents did so well," said Jenkin, Eshelman PTA president, "but now we're devastated. We have not one cent to show for our hard work because we haven't been paid by the company we contracted with. . . . I think it's terrible that anyone could do this to the school and children.
"We were going to use the money to buy school supplies. We are not a rich school--a lot of the equipment here is outdated. We have a very dedicated faculty and staff, and they do the best with what they have, but we thought with the money we earned we could improve the conditions."
No Money Received
The money raised by Eshelman students and parents--which drew a net profit of almost $8,000--was to be paid to the PTA on Dec. 21, two weeks after the fund-raising drive was over, by the company that organized the sale, Laguna Hills-based Community Fundraisers Inc.
Five months, numerous phone calls and several broken promises later, Eshelman parents and school officials say they have not received any of their money. The company did deliver the products purchased and the students' prizes for selling them.
"We kept thinking that we'd give them another chance and they'd come through," said Mary Taylor, PTA treasurer.
"The company presented us an unsigned check Feb. 6," said Eshelman Principal William E. Bennett. "They said, 'We don't have the money right now, but we will in 30 days.' But when March came, we were never paid. . . . Our PTA board was literally devastated by this thing. They had worked and planned and never had a sale that grossed as much as this one. It was very demoralizing for this to happen."
In addition to the unsigned check, the PTA was given a promissory note by Community Fundraisers. Both documents, say many parents, now appear worthless.
During the PTA fund-raising drive, Community Fundraisers was run by Rick Seeberger, who served as president of the company and was the PTA's main contact. In an interview with The Times this week, however, Seeberger said that he left the company in March, when its inability to pay bills--including Seeberger's salary--forced him to file for personal bankruptcy.
Seeberger would not name any other officers in the company, saying the information is "nobody else's business." Records filed in the secretary of state's office, dated February, 1985, list Seeberger as chief executive officer, chief financial officer, director and agent of the company. Huntington Beach resident Jenny Weddle, the only other person listed as an officer of the company, is named as secretary, but Weddle could not be reached for comment. The company phone number has been disconnected.
'Very, Very Bad Position'
Community Fundraisers intended to pay the PTA the money it is owed, Seeberger said, but the company could not because it fell into financial trouble after the chairman of its board of directors became ill and his financial backing was withdrawn. "That put the company in a very, very bad position," he said, adding that the company has not filed for bankruptcy and is trying to get on its feet.
Seeberger maintained that paying Eshelman Avenue school "is not a dead issue" for Community Fundraisers. "The company is trying to work out some way for them to be paid," he said. "I don't blame them for being upset, but at this time they are no different than other creditors."
Seeberger said he offered to involve the school in another fund-raiser from which the company would give its share of candy sales profits to the school. School and PTA officials said they were incredulous that he would make such an offer and quickly refused it.
Community Fundraisers does not owe money to other school groups, Seeberger said.
But the money owed to Eshelman Avenue has drawn the attention of Los Angeles Unified School District officials, who say they are investigating ways to recover the funds, possibly through a lawsuit against the company. The district also is looking into filing claims against the company's insurance policy and Seeberger's bankruptcy action.
However, the insurance policy was only required to cover product, automobile and property liability and bodily injuries. Also, the bankruptcy court has notified the district that Seeberger has no available assets, according to Ada Treiger, assistant legal adviser for the district.