Auction reflects a leaner time

HOLLIS – Last year, a bidder paid $700 for Red Sox tickets.

This year, those attending the second annual Hollis Elementary School PTA auction will be asked to plunk down their money for some things a little closer to home: dinner with the fire chief, a ride in the police chief’s cruiser during Old Home Days, a spot in a girls’ field hockey clinic, and other things donated by members of the community.

It’s the PTA’s answer to a deepening economic recession that has affected people in every sector.

Rather than cancel the fundraiser, the parents group recast the event and its financial goal.

“This year, we wanted to make it a community event,” said Marybeth Carroll, co-president of the PTA.

The parents group, which raised about $55,000 last year for the town’s two elementary schools, reduced its goal to $30,000.

Money raised is used for enrichment programs and new technology. Last year, the proceeds from the fundraiser were used to purchase musical and sound technology for the classrooms.

“We want to help the teachers, support the teachers,” Carroll said.

During the auction, bidding typically starts with a number that represents 33 percent of the value of an item.

But this year, many of the donations, including dinner with the fire chief and a ride in the police chief’s cruiser, have been tagged “priceless.”

So have many of the classroom contributions, including a basket containing children’s favorite books, an autographed guitar used by the kindergarten teacher, a cookbook, a book of poetry written by students, and a “stimulus” basket filled with gift cards.

“Our main focus was, ‘What would the kids like to see, to bid on?'” said Tara Houle, auction co-chair and the mother of a kindergartener and a second-grader.

Carroll said the auction organizers have cast a wide net: in addition to local businesses and public safety agencies, teachers, parents and students from the high school and middle school were asked to make donations.

“I have a 91-year-old neighbor who offered to give knitting lessons,” Carroll said.

At one point, early in the planning process, Carroll said, the auction committee considered canceling the fundraiser.

“People are losing jobs, and we can’t go out and ask people for money,” she said.

But some community members were already opening their wallets.

“A local dentist gave us $500 and told us, ‘Don’t cancel this auction. Hollis will survive,'” Carroll said.

“People are realizing that donating your time, skill, talent, have value,” Carroll said.

Indeed, among the items up for bid is the opportunity to serve as junior librarian for a day at the town’s library and to enroll in an SAT preparation course or purchase five hours of college consulting.

Bidders will also have four opportunities to buy a session at a recording studio where musician Steve Blunt will be making a CD.

“You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” Carroll said. “You have to look deep inside yourself and figure out a different way to do it.”

The Hollis Elementary School second annual auction will be Saturday, March 28, from 6 p.m.-midnight at the Crowne Plaza Nashua.

Admission is $60 a person and the cost of a ticket includes a seat, dinner, the live auction, and afterwards, dancing.

For more information or to reserve a ticket, contact Tara Houle at tjhoule