Before this article is published, a not-so-small army of volunteers has already mobilized to begin bringing to life the 40th Greater Lakes Region Children’s Auction, which kicks off Tuesday. By the time the event concludes on Friday, it will have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars — around a half-million, if recent years are any indication — for local children.
How do they do it? Largely through the enthusiasm and dedication of scores of volunteers, people who started helping in a small way, sometimes through coercion or professional obligation, and come back year after year, eager to take on an even bigger load of the work.
The auction started as a radio program, and it reached a new audience and level when Lakes Region Public Access joined 20 years ago. Grace McNamara is the fourth LRPA station manager to help put the auction on local television screens — and, more recently, on local computer monitors and smart devices — which it does through the help of other local partners such as The Enablement Group, SOS Tech and Atlantic Broadband, and with students from the Huot Technical Center’s digital media program.
For me and my team, what makes the hard work of the auction worthwhile is knowing that our efforts, along with the hundreds of other volunteers who work year-round on this event, result in much-needed funds that go to amazing local nonprofits that support children and families in need. Fantastic,” McNamara said.
Hannaford Supermarket has also been involved for 20 years, said Larry Poliquin, manager at the Hannaford in Gilford. The supermarket sends volunteers to work at the auction, provides food for the auction crew, and donates items to go up on the auction boards. Poliquin said the auction satisfies two main goals for Hannaford: supporting community organizations and fighting to end food insecurity.
“The Children’s Auction meets both of those goals and is one of a handful of organizations that operates with minimal overhead, assuring that the majority of the funds raised go right to those in need,” said Poliquin. “The impact the auction has made on the community over the last 40 years is incredible. Not only have they raised millions of dollars for the youth of the Lakes Region, they have created an event that brings the community together in a way rarely seen these days... Being a part of this amazing event is a true honor for us and we look forward to supporting the event in years to come.”
A third long-time supporter is Path Resorts, the company that operates Steele Hill Resort, Summit Resort and Center Harbor Inn. Justin Cutillo, vice president at Path, said the company started with the auction by donating gift certificates and getaway packages to tempt bidders. “With a little prodding from some key staff members, we have become more involved with the charity,” said Cutillo. One such staff member is Jill Ober, director of systems at Path, who is also on the auction board of directors. This year, Path is offering a vacation sweepstakes to benefit the auction, has hosted a “Beachapalooza” to raise money for the event, is running a food drive, is sponsoring a bid board and will send employees to work the phone bank.
“In the hospitality industry we see both sides of the coin, guests from out-of-town spending big money to vacation in our beautiful corner of New Hampshire, and residents in some of the surrounding towns struggling to make ends meet. People on our staff have opened our eyes to how important this cause really is,” Cutillo said. “We see the impact this charity is making on the children in the area and we understand the dividends that pay as these kids grow up and pass along that same spirit of giving to those in need behind them.”
Tanger Outlets has been involved with the auction for the past five years as a phone bank team, said Eric Proulx, manager of the outlet mall in Tilton. This year, the mall is celebrating its 40th anniversary, and with the shared milestone with the auction, the two Lakes Region hallmarks are joining together in a new way. Tanger is donating a large storefront for the auction to use for its live production, an in-kind donation worth about $5,000.
“Partnering with the Greater Lakes Region Children’s Auction was a natural fit,” said Proulx, “We had the space available to make it happen. Tanger has always given back to the communities it serves by supporting causes and initiatives such as cancer research, first responder and military programs, and education grants.”
Gilford Hills Tennis and Fitness Club has also supported the auction for several years. Missi Perkins said club members got together to operate the phone banks, instructors offered an on-air kickboxing class, raised money through a tennis tournament, and donated fitness classes and other items to be auctioned. “We’ve had a lot of fun raising money for a great cause,” said Perkins, adding that the club’s members are like a family, and are “thrilled” to support the cause.
This year, Gilford Hills is hosting the return of Cyclemania, a 12-hour stationary cycling challenge featuring Mike “Mad Dog” Gallagher, on Dec. 7, and will staff the phone banks on Dec. 9.
“We hope to continue our involvement for many years to come,” Perkins said.
Some were brought into contact with the auction by circumstance, and got hooked. That’s the case for Mark Persson, who was directed by his employer, Northern Telecom, to help set up a phone system for WLNH in the early 1990s.
Persson kept coming back, often to patch together a functioning phone system using re-purposed or borrowed parts. That job now includes installation of modems and internet equipment.
His initial involvement was “accidental,” Persson said, but it made an impression.
“Seeing the community come together to support this event and what it does for the Greater Lakes Region plays a big part in why I like to be involved,” Persson said. “I look at it more as a privilege to be able to provide my assistance with the equipment and my skills to help the auction be successful. I am also glad to be invited back each year.”
A man and a van
In early December of 1981, WLNH radio disc jockey Warren Bailey had just gotten approval from his superiors to try out his unusual request: to disrupt the station’s regular programming for two days to try and raise money and collect winter clothing.
Bailey, who had come to the station from the Boston area, said he was moved by what he said was “invisible poverty” in the area, and he recalled a radio station in his home city that was able to raise money through an on-air auction.
“I was begging the owners to blow up the format and do this,” Bailey said, and he finally got the green light with just a few days of notice.
He said the auction was a one-man show when it started. “It all started as a man in a van,” he said. That first year he raised $2,100, which was donated to a single charity, and he collected two dump trucks full of warm clothing and toys. “We considered it a successful first year.”
The auction doubled its productivity in year two, and continued that momentum in the third year.
“By the fourth year, the community embraced the auction. There were so many people volunteering and helping us out,” Bailey said. One year they nearly froze in the van, Bailey came down with pneumonia afterward, and they decided to move the operation indoors.
He said it has been a profound experience to watch the event grow over the decades.
“It takes my breath away, and knowing so many organizations are served,” he said. The auction he started puts warm coats on children’s backs, it feeds them through summer vacations, it provides medicated shampoo to treat lice – more than 60 local nonprofit organizations were helped from the 39th Children’s Auction.
Bailey said that many of the auction’s most ardent supporters are adults who remember being poor and young, and receiving a helping hand.
At one auction, years ago, Bailey said a woman, who worked as a lawyer in Boston, drove up in a snowstorm and asked to speak with him. He didn’t know who she was. “She said, ‘When I was a little child, you helped me,’” She handed him an envelope with a $1,000 donation. “That’s just one of so many examples of hundreds of people, when they come back as an adult and pay it forward.”