A case of toilet paper went for $22.50, a fourth grader made a winning bid of $18.50 to be school principal for an afternoon, and a kindergartener's father bought a fall weekend for six in Chincoteague for $150--all in the not-so-silent last 10 minutes of a silent auction that was one of the biggest moneymakers at Lafayette Elementary School's spring fair last Saturday.
For a school fair that has a reputation for raising money, that's saying something. Last spring's fair netted $14,000 for the school at Northampton and Broad Branch Road NW; this year's is expected to clear about $17,000 when the final tally is in. The auction alone pulled in about $2,000--twice as much as the Chinese food stand, one of the most popular sections of the fair's international foods bazaar.
Proceeds from the fair are to be used to support arts and science programs that lost funds in school budget cuts, and to pay for special supplies such as the 500 helium-filled balloons students recently launched as part of a weather study project.
School officials attribute the fair's success record to its tight organization. Jerri Greenberg and Anne Yerman, cochairwomen of this year's events, said they started in January contacting people who could be counted on as organizers.
"Everyone thinks, 'Oh, these housewives are just doing another little thing,' " said Yerman, "but these people do a professional job. Running a fair is like running any other organization. There are the presidents and vice presidents, and the people who run departments form a network. It's important that they see things through, and they do."
The silent auction people--Pat Roden and Patty Myler--have been working for three months, getting people to contribute goods and services. The flea market people have to start late, because they can't store things for a long time, but in the last six weeks they have filled six garages, and that's an enormous effort: collecting materials, sorting it, pricing it, and, when the fair is over, delivering what's left over to charities."
The auction, flea market and international food fair are the biggest moneymakers--especially the food, which brings in perhaps a third of the profits at Lafayette.
Working from the school directory, a food coordinator makes sure every parent is signed up to prepare something. About two weeks before the fair date, master recipes are printed in the school bulletin and lessons are given in making dishes such as baklava and stuffed grape leaves. Parents prepare taco mix, Chinese noodles, chili, chocolate mousse and other ethnic specialties. This year, Lafayette French students made the crepes, but parents prepared the baked goods and food for most of the other booths. The parents buy the ingredients and may take the costs as tax deductions, so the school makes a clear profit on the foods sold. The Home and School Association pays for fun foods such as snow cones and cotton candy.
The fair has become a customary lunch stop for families because prices are low. Most platters are under $2, drinks are 35 cents and many dessert items sell for 50 cents.
"You have to think big and publicize well," said Mary Janice Dicello, who chaired last year's fair and was copublicist this year. "People from other schools call and ask if they should have more than hot dogs and I say, 'Sure you should have more than hot dogs.' " But with school populations dwindling, you have to reach outside the school population and draw other people to the fair--particularly the garage-sale shoppers and people who are just looking for something to do or eat."
Lafayette fair organizers spent about $350 on advertising and publicity this year. They printed flyers and posters, placed ads in community newsletters and wrote spots for public-service announcements on local radio and TV stations. The week before the fair, they circulated 200 catalogues listing the items to be sold at the silent auction.
Profits are not the only concern of the fair committee, however. Organizers also were concerned with providing a variety of entertainment and activities for both children and adults. For the kids, this year's fair featured rock painting, face painting, pony rides, carnival rides and video games.
"A lot of the fair's success has to do with things unrelated to money," explained school treasurer Karen Fleischer. "Balloons, for example, made only $53, but balloons and clowns are part of the atmosphere. I don't know if the dunking machine will make any money at all, but did you see the kids gathered around it?"
For the adult fairgoers there were booths selling used books and records, house plants, a consignment shop and computer portraits, as well as the flea market and craft items made by the children. Raffles also are popular. A quilt made by fifth graders brought $700--enough to pay for a fifth-grade field trip. Raffle proceeds from a bicycle, a video game and other items totaled more than $1,000.
"I'm not sure the fair is the most efficient way to raise money," said Dicello. "It's labor-intensive, but it builds such a sense of neighborhood and community that it's great for morale."
And that's the bottom line.