Rosemary Laughlin/Voices | Fundraisers not all they're cracked up to be

Rosemary Laughlin/Voices | Fundraisers not all they're cracked up to be


My young neighbor came by selling candy — $8 for 6 ounces — to raise money for her gymnastics team. Highway robbery, with little of that actually going to the kids.

I have adopted an alternative. I give $5 to the child seller and tell her to donate that entirely to the fund, not to the hired organizer.

I imagine that the business of fundraising using school kids began some time after World War II. It was in the late 1940s that my brother and I had our first taste of it.

Our principal came to each classroom and told how our school could make money for playground equipment. And, we kids could earn prizes for selling boxes of Christmas cards. The top prize was $50. Fifty dollars! Wow!

Tim met me on the playground. "Fifty dollars for the kid who sells the most! If you and I combine our sales, we can win. Since I'm older, I'll hand in the sales and collect the prize. But you'll get half the money."

Twenty-five dollars each sounded great. More than enough for a Schwinn bike or Riedell figure skates — expensive things we could only dream about.

Several days later, the cards arrived. Ugh. They pictured a winter wonderland in dull colors. Mother was skeptical. "$2.50 for a box of these? Who besides parents will buy?"

"The neighbors!" Tim cried. "C'mon!" We were off to see Mrs. Williams next door.

She bought! Then we spotted Jimmy Bender one street up. "Stay away from my territory!" he yelled.

"Huh!" Tim grunted. "We'll split up and cover twice what he does."

This tactic got us 10 boxes by the end of the week. Annoyed people then told us they'd already placed an order.

"Extend your territory," Dad advised. "Try a neighborhood where kids go to a different school."

Fair Acres was across the highway. We crossed it to reach elegant houses set far back from winding streets.

We learned that when maids answered the doors, they told us to go around back to the kitchen. They had limited days off and were pleased to have cards brought to them.

We sold just enough to keep us trudging to new neighborhoods. Hard to believe though it seems now, no sales reports were given at school. The principal gave generic urgings to do our best to earn new play equipment.

One Friday, Mr. Darby announced the Monday awarding of prizes to conclude the sales drive. Tim and I spent hours on Saturday and Sunday. We made one sale.

"Maybe this will make us No. 1," I said hopefully.

Tim agreed. "I wonder what the other prizes will be. Fishing rod? Pinball game? Monopoly?" We'd been told of a surprise table to choose from.

It occurred to me we might have to settle for something less than $50. "You pick something we both will like in case we aren't at the top."

"We'll be at the top. Nobody else I've heard of has anywhere near 35."

The entire school was packed into the library. I was nowhere near Tim.

Mr. Darby praised our good work. "And now, the first-place winner is" — my heart pounded — "Cliff Judson for 150 boxes sold. Wonderful, Cliff."

I simply could not believe it. Could not believe it. One hundred and fifty boxes! How ever had he done that? Tim and I had worked hours and hours to muster our 35.

My head spinning, I listened to the runners-up called, all seventh- and eighth-graders we didn't know. Each went to choose a prize on a table. I was too far back to see what the prizes were.

Tim's name was called seventh. I pushed forward. I had to see what there was and signal what I would like.

I was astounded for the second time. On the table was — junk! Really cheap carnival junk.

Tim picked a plastic statue of George Washington, about 8 inches high.

I felt sick. By the time I met Tim after school, I was furious.

"How could Cliff Judson have sold that many boxes?" I hissed.

"His dad owns Judson Foods. He asked employees to buy."

"And that prize! Oh, Tim, wasn't there anything better than a plastic George Washington?"

"Nope." He grinned weakly. "Hey, it was the only statue that glows in the dark. Neat, huh? George can be our night light in the hall.""Yeah," I fumed. I could see the luminescent core. "We can call him Glowworm George."

Rosemary Laughlin lives in Urbana and writes community theater reviews for The News-Gazette.