It took the Greater Lakes Region Children’s Auction 25 years to raise a million dollars, a cumulative mark the annual fundraising tradition exceeded in 2007, when the event collected $210,325. As impressive as that figure was then, even more impressive is how the Auction continues to increase the amount it generates for local nonprofits. The latest Auction, which concluded Friday night, collected a record-setting $625,727.
If that number feels extraordinary, imagine how it feels to Jaimie Sousa, who just completed her sixth year as chair of the Auction’s board of directors, and her 11th year as a volunteer.
“Even after 11 years, it’s still completely overwhelming,” Sousa said. Each auction has its own moment, and for Sousa, this year's came Thursday, when the auction was running out of items to put on the block.
Sousa made a plea to the public, and within hours, she looked out into the parking lot of the Belknap Marketplace, where the Auction was headquartered, and saw it full of people coming to drop off donations to be auctioned, all to benefit organizations in the Lakes Region that help low income children and families.
The people were bringing not just gifts, it turned out, but also monetary donations.
“It’s genuinely overwhelming,” Sousa said. “I’ve seen it so many times, but I never necessarily expect to see what I’m seeing. It’s incredible.”
So, how did this year’s auction hit such a lofty height? Sousa and Jenn Kelley, executive director, said it’s no one thing, but many different pieces that came together for the common goal.
“There are so many components,” Kelley said. “There’s so many pieces to the puzzle.”
Though the auction is traditionally an early-December affair, it has for several years become a year-round effort, a trend which started with Pub Mania, now known as the Community Challenge, during which teams collectively raised $304,500 this year. Those teams come up with creative fundraising ideas throughout the year to compete for the title of most money raised.
The success of the Community Challenge inspired other early efforts. An event was held at the Colonial Theatre to benefit the auction, and early access bidding was launched this year on Black Friday. Firefighters held boot drives, and the Laconia Elks Club revived a fundraising event this year. Kelley also credited a grant the auction received from Franklin Savings Bank, which allowed the auction to utilize a marketing budget for the first time this year, spreading the word about the auction to people who are new to the region or who've managed to live here for years without hearing about the event.
“The Children’s Auction is not just in December, we are alive and working, and we are introducing events that are all year long,” Kelley said.
Does $625,000 sound good? To Sousa and Kelley, it sounds great, but not quite good enough. This year, grant requests submitted to the auction totaled $660,000, which would directly benefit more than 30,000 children in the Lakes Region.
With that need in mind, plans are already in the works for the 42nd annual Greater Lakes Region Children’s Auction, which will be held Dec. 5-8, 2023.
The auction will only be the finale, though, of efforts that start months earlier. Community Challenge teams will have already raised thousands before the auction even begins, and the auction itself will have held a couple of events already. The live theater event will return to the Colonial — save the date for Aug. 15, 2023 — and a new “Christmas in July” event, to be held on the MS Mount Washington cruise ship, is in the planning stages.
Sousa said the auction’s seeming limitless energy is a fusion of many different pieces, but there’s one element that acts as the catalyst.
“Above everything else, it’s the overall generosity of the community. People are continuing to tune in, hearing what we have to say, hearing the call for help and answering it,” Sousa said. “We know people are out there and are listening, I can’t think of other words right now except for ‘overwhelming.’”
Laconia Daily Sun Full article— by Adam Drapcho. Photos courtesy of Jaron Jenkins