Full article on Laconia Daily Sun, The 2023 Greater Lakes Region Children’s Auction is in the books, having raised $711,493 for organizations that benefit local young people. While the point of the exercise is the collection and distribution of that funding, this year’s event also succeeded in developing a few improvements to the auction formula, no small task for something that has been around since started by radio personality Warren Bailey in 1982.
Some of those tweaks to the auction’s operation, though small, have added up to a significant increase in bidding traffic this year, said board Chair Doug Morrissette.
“The bidding, year over year, is up 40%,” Morrissette said on Friday morning, the last day of the four-day event.
The Auction — now run by a small army of volunteers who do their work in a large space in Belknap Marketplace — has seen many evolutions since its early days, when it was just Bailey in a broadcast van, describing donated items over the radio, fueled by an earnest desire to help the children of his community.
The Auction is now broadcast on the radio, on Lakes Region Public Access Television, and is streamed live online, reaching more potential bidders than ever. This year, those bidders have been able to compete in ways that were only previously available to people who paid extra last year.
Previously, those who paid extra for “super bidder” status had access to offer prices on items before they actually reached the auction block. This year, auction organizers opened up bidding to hundreds of items on Black Friday, and many bids were placed before the auction even went live.
All of those shoppers also had enhanced bidding capacity this year. In addition to placing a current bid, bidders could also set a “max bid” for each item, and if someone were to outbid them on an item, the system would automatically place a higher bid, up to the level of the max bid.
There were some organizational changes, too. This year, a new role was added to the volunteer structure. Larry Poliquin, vice chair of the board, acted as “stage manager,” with the task of ensuring the television and radio sides of the production were all acting in concert. Poliquin, who works at the Bristol Hannaford, said, “Amazingly, it is a lot like managing a grocery store.”
On Thursday, the Auction hosted a special night for families with cookies, stories, a visit from Santa and craft projects. More than 200 children and their adults came, injecting the space with youthful energy and a reminder about what the effort is all about.
“There were kids running around everywhere, we haven’t had an audience like that in a long time,” said Jaimie Sousa, immediate past chair of the auction, who has stayed on as part of the IT team.
“You could tell all the kids were having a blast,” said Morrissette, “It definitely gave the warm and fuzzies.”
Sousa said there’s a new sense of energy for the Auction.
“I am super, super excited about the new leadership on the board,” Sousa said. “We are just excited to see this thing grow.”
The Community Challenge
One element helping to propel the auction to new fundraising heights over the past many years has been Pub Mania, described as a “barstool challenge” that tasks teams to fill stools at Patrick’s Pub & Eatery in Gilford for a certain window of time, and in the process, to raise money for the Auction.
Such a challenge was not possible during the pandemic, so Patrick’s instead pivoted the teams into the Community Challenge, offering teams a chance to find new ways to raise funds for the auction. This year, the barstool challenge returned — as only a 12-hour challenge instead of the original 24 — as part of the ongoing Community Challenge.
“I have to say that the 12-hour version of Pub Mania did not let anyone down,” said Allan Beetle, Pub Mania founder and one of the owners of Patrick’s Pub. He said he suspected a shortened event would succeed, after seeing an example that a local Elks Club put on in recent memory, and he felt the existence of Pub Mania was important to help build and maintain teams for the Community Challenge.
“It is still an exhausting 12 hours, but it is not nearly as difficult” as the 24-hour version, Beetle said. Having a shorter time frame made it easier to pack the event with special events and guests, such as bagpipers, singers and a performance by comedian Juston McKinney. “It’s a whole different feel for it, I think people really enjoyed it. The energy didn’t drop a single iota.”
Making a difference in the lives of children
While the amount of funding that the auction raises grows, so too is the awareness for the need of such an event.
Jennifer Kelley, executive director of the auction, had previously noted that local organizations have submitted grant requests totaling more than $800,000. She said on Friday the changes brought to the auction this year will be an important way for those needs to be met.
“That has opened up a revenue stream that we are excited to see what that will do for the kids and families in need in this area,” Kelley said.
Lisa Cornish was one of the volunteers who took a week of vacation time to help put on the auction. She’s part of the team that processes each donated item brought in to be auctioned. She’s now a board member. Before that, she was a donor, then a volunteer. Before all of that, though, nearly 30 years ago, she was a single mother struggling to provide a life for her child.
“My daughter and I were recipients of the auction. She was 2 and 3 [years old]. She’s 31 now,” Cornish said. It’s a joy for her to come together with what she calls her “auction family” to help provide the kind of assistance that she once needed.
“It makes my heart swell, all the love and kindness in our community,” she said. “It wouldn’t be Christmas if I couldn’t do it.”
Cornish said she is grateful for all of the people who help by donating items for the Auction.
“What a difference it makes when you give,” she said.
Though this year’s auction is now concluded, work already begins on the next one, Kelley said. “Stay tuned for ‘An Evening of Broadway’ in August, and before that, ‘Christmas in July,’” a midsummer yule celebration that takes place aboard the M/S Mount Washington. Find out all the details about future events at childrensauction.org.