Bazaar Tales

Recently I joined the Auxiliary of a local retirement home to help put on their annual bazaar, their main fundraising event. I learned, I worked and I laughed–including, of course, at myself.  It’s pretty cool how dedicated the Auxiliary is, and with what determination they propel their cause.

Donated items have been accumulating all year.  In September, the Holiday Bazaar project begins in earnest  Working in the narrow, high-ceilinged corridors of the building’s basement, we bring cartons of donated items out of a densely packed 15-by-40-foot storage room—one of several that are allocated to various volunteer groups and are stuffed with donated items. We inspect and price the items, then repack and reshelve them.

We hand-write prices and attach them to items, using pretty tags cut from greeting cards. My informant explains that, starting in 2004, the Auxiliary made Christmas handicrafts to sell in the Bazaar. “We had fun, but we got tired.” That effort didn’t produce much income. The Auxiliary has had better luck selling items donated by families and friends of the retirement home and its residents. Some items are remnants of other volunteer fundraising efforts. Another project is a holiday raffle basket, which typically sells for about $200.

In early November I join the team again. This time we’re in a large conference room with a kitchenette. The periphery of the room is marked off with signs like “Glassware” and “Ornaments.” Bears are so special that they have a category to themselves. We discuss items that are tough to categorize; is a large, rather homely Santa vase glassware or an ornament? We repack the sorted items in boxes that are numbered for the bazaar tables for which they’re intended.

bears

At 7 AM on the morning of the bazaar, setup goes quickly, thanks to all the preparation. I’m doing the baked goods table, working with bags and boxes of cookies, zucchini bread, fudge and cupcakes. To my left, the gift basket raffle is setting up; a long football pennant is draped over the basket. I make a sign, “Baked Goods $1 Or As Marked,” and shuttle empty boxes to a back room.

I move a wooden spice cabinet with glass-panelled doors out of the way under a table. I deliver a misplaced Corning ware casserole dish that for some reason was in Baked Goods to the appropriate table. From across the room I hear a glassy crash; it took only moments for someone to put a foot thru the spice cabinet.  Briefly, silence reigns; a triage conference ensues.

“We could mark it down to a dollar,” a woman suggests.

“Put a ‘Free’ sign on it,” urges another. “It will save having to throw it away.” I never see the spice cabinet again.

An old hand comes by to check on my baked goods table. With a few adjustments, she gets half again as much stuff on display. It’s a good thing, because busy bakers arrive every few minutes with more goodies; Hawaiian cinnamon bread, pecan cookies, lemon bars. Now and then, passers by linger over the table. Just because the cashier isn’t ready doesn’t mean people can’t look. A woman hands me a shopping bag full of frosted cupcakes. “Thanks,” I say and put it under the table.

“No,” she says, “They need to be on the table.”

“I don’t think I have any room left,” I point out.

Swiftly she makes premium room for her masterpieces, consigning the unguarded plates of lemon bars to a pile in a back corner.

At 10 AM the sale is officially underway. The first-floor lobbies and halls fill with people. Shoppers and volunteers alike are smiling, talking and laughing. My informant hands me an armload of box-lids that can be used as trays. “Offer trays to shoppers who are picking things up,” she cannily advises. “Then their hands won’t be full; so they’ll buy more!” I do, and I can see it’s working. Now and then, as gaps appear among the baked goods, I add more from the boxes under the table.

tables awayThe sale goes on for two days. Then the packing crew arrives. Unsold goods are boxed and shuttled to the basement storeroom by a fleet of basket-carts. Pushing one of these thru the narrow basement hall is like entering a holiday mineshaft.  A woman in a winter parka is holding open the heavy door to the parking lot.  I get my own coat and spell her off the boring job.  She gives me a grateful look and finds something interesting to do.  Moments later a custodian walks up, fishes a cement brick from inside, props the door open with it, and I’m free.  I don’t tell the woman she was doing the job of a brick; that would be cruel.

Soon we’re collapsing tables and rolling shelves away. In less than two hours the job is done. Some of this bounty of donations will return for the next fundraiser. Other items will appear in the retirement home’s thrift shop throughout the year or be shared with other fundraising projects.

This year’s bazaar earned over $8,500. The funds will support resident programs and services.

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