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Fun With Fundraisers

Help a school, get a bargain, bring in customers

Spring is the season for school fundraisers, which means bargains and parties, all for a good cause.

Last year was my son's first year at Playhouse Nursery School in West Orange. The school is partially co-operative, which means that the school depends on parents for help with anything from being the “helping parent” during class, to working on community outreach, to setting up and running parenting workshops, to (everyone's favorite activity…) fundraising.

Myself and another first-year mom somehow ended up in charge of the school's big annual fundraiser, also known as The Basket Raffle (I just got a little chill just from the words, as my former co-chair will when she reads this. Not the good kind of chill either, more like the chill of terror you get from a screaming infant at 3am.) We worked hard. It was a lot of pressure, a lot of fun, and we each made a good friend co-chairing together.

What is a basket raffle? Also called a "tricky tray," it's a series of raffles. Here's how it works: a school solicits and receives donations from local businesses and bundles them into packages, or baskets, then holds an event where all the baskets are on display, each with their own raffle box. Attendees buy raffle tickets and put their tickets only in those raffle boxes for the items that interest them.

My co-chair, Kim, and I were a little overwhelmed at the task we had taken on when we first started. Luckily, we had help from parents who had done this before.

First, we had to motivate parents to solicit businesses to donate anything and everything from spa services, to in-home catering, to a hot air balloon ride. Then we had to organize it all and decide which items would be basket raffle items and which items would be silent auction items. Items like the hot air balloon ride were easy because they would stand on their own. It was grouping all the smaller items into packages that made it labor-intensive, and fun.

We had gourmet baskets, filled with regional delicacies; a basket of red wines; a beautiful basket full of designer nursery accoutrements; a construction-themed basket, filled with all kinds of toys for building; a grocery bag full of treats from Trader Joe's; handmade designer jewelry sets; original artwork; a basket full of Bobbi Brown cosmetics; the list goes on and on. There were over a hundred baskets to choose from. And there were another eighty or so items in the silent auction. Some were items you could never buy, like a VIP tour of “The Daily Show” or being able to watch “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” live from the control room.

I won a silent auction for one year membership to the Geyer Family YMCA in Montclair. I paid $80, which is what an annual membership costs anyway. I didn't save any money on the cost of a membership, but instead of paying the $80 directly to the Y, Playhouse got the money, the Y got a new member (my son), and I was able to help our school. It was a win-win-win.

I also won the grocery bag full of Trader Joe's goodies. Shortly afterward, I made the trip to Millburn and I've been a weekly shopper there ever since.

By the end of the evening, there were deals had on other items in the silent auction, new customers for the donating companies, happy winners among attendees, and a record-breaking influx of funds for the school.

It was a catered evening at the school and everyone had fun. This year, Playhouse is holding the fundraiser at the beautiful Van Vleck House and Gardens in Montclair. I'm looking forward to attending, this year as a guest.

So check your local schools for their upcoming fundraisers. You can support your local school, afterschool activity, or fund a class trip and you may find a bargain in the process.


Playhouse Basket Raffle and Silent Auction

Saturday, May 14, 7 p.m.

Van Vleck House

21 Van Vleck St # 12

Montclair, NJ 07042


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