The first KidsMarch, a fund-raising walk that was to raise millions for homeless Southern California children, has been canceled. Nine hundred families signed up and pledged more than $1 million, far short of the goal set by Pallotta TeamWorks, the for-profit company that has been mired in complaints of financial mismanagement.

”We were hoping to have 9,000, but we got about 1,500, which just wasn’t going to return enough money,“ says Janna Sidley, vice president of communications. The 15-mile overnight march was scheduled for June 29-30 in the Pasadena area. The rules required each parent to pledge at least $1,000, and each child, $500. But, Sidley says, you can‘t count on everyone showing up.

Pallotta had only seen about $150,000 in donations — a far lower percentage than it usually acquires in its signature Avon Breast Cancer three-day walk. ”You can’t have kids ask for money and have all of it go to expenses, which is what would have happened if we had gone forward,“ Sidley says.

She blames the low turnout on a stumbling economy and a post-911 reluctance to donate, and says that donors often don‘t realize how much it costs to actually stage such a mammoth event. Walkers would need showers, a medical crew, food and tents.

Pallotta took a hit of around a million dollars in advertising and labor costs, and will eat the overhead, Sidley said. The company promises to donate 100 percent of all collected donations to the designated beneficiaries — foster agencies Hollygrove and Vista Del Mar. Letters have been sent to all donors and walkers, offering either to refund money or to forward it to the charities.

This may be a good PR move for the company. Just last year, the beneficiaries of the California AIDS ride, the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, broke ties with Pallotta, claiming only 50 cents of every dollar raised ever reached their organizations. (The Better Business Bureau and most fund-raising efforts suggest 65 percent should make it to the cause.) When the charities decided to stage their own ride for a better return, Pallotta sued, and some community leaders cried sour grapes. Pallotta ultimately lost the case, and its own ride, culminating last weekend, was down from 2,600 riders to just over 700. This past month, the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade decided it too wanted to dissociate from Pallotta’s three-day walks next year and pursue its own fund-raising strategies.

Still, it wasn‘t just money the Los Angeles foster charities wanted from KidsMarch. ”We were very disappointed,“ says Tim Ryder, director of Hollygrove, which houses 68 homeless kids and coordinates foster-home placement. Ryder was expecting the event to generate enough publicity to pull in multiple new volunteers. ”The money was an issue, but we also looked to this as a chance to get people involved in mentoring or tutoring our kids.“

A Thousand Oaks mom, who asked not to be identified, says that such poor planning is unacceptable. ”When you’re getting kids to help other kids, how can you misjudge and miscalculate so poorly?“ she asks. ”My daughter was very upset, and worried about the foster kids we were supposed to be helping.“

She and her daughter had been training and hitting up friends and family for contributions for months. ”Here we are, trying to teach our kids to do something good and help other people, and they end up just being really disappointed.“

LA Weekly