By Adam Drapcho
LACONIA — December is the season of giving, and in the Lakes Region, that includes giving to a variety of local charitable efforts. It has become an annual tradition that is as reliable and celebrated as Christmas lights and shopping excursions.
None of the local fundraisers is more celebrated than the Greater Lakes Region Children's Auction, started by radio personality Warren Bailey in 1982. Bailey raised $2,100 that year. The auction, which solicits bids for items donated by the community, has grown into a six-day affair broadcast on two radio stations, one TV station and the auction's website. Run entirely on volunteer labor and with donated goods, every penny raised is distributed to organizations that benefit local children. Last year, the auction raised $486,575.
Accounting for nearly half of that figure was the amount raised by Pub Mania, an event hosted at Patrick's Pub & Eatery to benefit the auction. Alan Beetle, co-owner of Patrick's, said he was inspired to start Pub Mania while participating in another event, one which challenged teams to operate stationary cycles at the Laconia Athletic and Swim Club for a 24-hour period, also to raise money for the Children's Auction.
"I was sitting on a stationary cycle at 3 in the morning, talking to the guy next to me, thinking, 'This model would work pretty well on a bar stool.'"
Turns out Beetle was right.
Pub Mania, which will be held for the seventh year on Dec. 10 and 11, challenges teams to occupy a bar stool for a 24-hour period. While there's a minimum amount each team needs to raise in order to participate, many teams go far beyond and compete with each other to see which team can raise the most. Last year, the 30 teams participating in Pub Mania raised a total of $235,595, all of which was donated to the Children's Auction.
To date, Pub Mania has raised nearly $800,000 to benefit local charities, a figure Beetle said is thanks to the hard work and friendly competition among the teams. Team BPS, which raised nearly $25,000, took the title in 2014. Coming in second was Team Cafe Deja Vu, which has been at or near the top of the rankings for the past few years.
About Team Cafe Deja Vu, Beetle said, "They are probably the hardest working team – they keep the true spirit of fun in their events."
Co-captain of Team Deja Vu, Tony Felch, said the team works year-round to raise money for Pub Mania. The team hosts raffles, comedy nights and concerts, all to be donated to the Children's Auction via Pub Mania. Last year, the team raised nearly $20,000, and it hopes to surpass that figure this year.
"We put a pretty high goal on ourselves to raise that amount of money," said Felch.
It takes a lot of work to try and reach that goal, he said, but it's the thought of what those dollars will be used for that encourages the effort.
"It's for the kids, so that's why we all do it. There's a lot of people that step up to the plate and donate," Felch said. "The community realizes there's a need. We have a really good community that comes together when there's a need."
While the firefighters' "boot drives" might not be among the Children's Auction's larger contributors, they are among its most time-honored. Standing on the sidewalk at the intersection of Pleasant and Main Streets in downtown Laconia, firefighter Chris Beaudoin and a handful of other firefighters were holding empty boots, which they used to accept donations of dollar bills from passing motorists. Beaudoin said the Laconia Professional Fire Fighters Association has been collecting for the auction for 15 years, donating the amount they collect, plus some from the union's account, to total $1,500 to $2,000 each year.
"Our organization takes time to give back to the organization as much as we can. It's what we do as caregivers," said Beaudoin.
Among the regular beneficiaries of the Children's Auction is the Salvation Army, which operates a soup kitchen and family homeless shelter in Laconia. Chris Rockwell, who was ringing a bell for a red collection kettle outside of the Wal-Mart in Gilford on Friday, knows the importance of the donations. He started volunteering as a bell ringer for Salvation Army four years ago.
"An old friend told us about it because we were in a jam and the Salvation Army helped us out of it ... I know what it's like to be poor and not be able to give a kid a Christmas," said Rockwell.
His situation has improved, but Rockwell keeps volunteering as a way to show his gratitude and to help extend assistance to others.
"They really, truly care," he said. "That made me very happy, because he had a Christmas."
Beetle, the originator of Pub Mania, said he hopes to see other restaurants or clubs copy his model.
"It's a model worth looking at for any restaurant that would like to raise money for something near and dear to them," he said. "Every restaurant has a community."
He's found that the Pub Mania model can leverage that community to great ends. However, he said organizers should keep a couple of things in mind. First, the event should benefit a cause that will inspire a wide range of people.
"What's made Pub Mania such a phenomenal success is that it's done for the Children's Auction. People believe in the mission of the Children's Auction – taking care of kids."
Secondly, Beetle said the event has to be fun. At Pub Mania, there's a packed schedule of events to keep participants entertained. Bands, games, even bar-stool yoga, all make sure everyone has such a good time they can't wait to sign up for next year.
"If you can keep it fun," he said, "you can sustain it longer."
Lastly, he said organizers shouldn't consider their event a success or failure based on a predetermined goal. While it's fun to eclipse a prior year's mark, he said, "We have to keep in mind it's going to be a success, no matter what the number is."