11-30 Auction volunteers

Greater Lakes Region Children’s Auction chairwoman Jaimie Sousa, back right, describes the new space, in the former Peebles store at the Belknap Mall, to auction volunteers on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019. (Alan MacRae for the Laconia Daily Sun)

LACONIA — If it’s the holiday season in the Lakes Region, then it’s time for the Children’s Auction, an annual celebration of giving in support of our youngest neighbors.

The 38th Annual Greater Lakes Region Children’s Auction, which sells donated items and then gives the proceeds to local nonprofits that serve children, will begin on Tuesday, Dec. 3, and conclude on Saturday, Dec. 7. During the week, the auction will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and 6 to 9 p.m. On the final day, the auction will start at 9 a.m. and finish at 1 p.m.

There are many ways to follow the auction. It will be broadcast live on 104.9 The Hawk and WEEI 101.5 FM Sports Radio, on Atlantic Broadband Channel 12 and LRPA Channel 25, online at live.lrpa.org, and it will be streamed in high definition at laconiadailysun.com. The stream will also be available through the Children’s Auction and LRPA Facebook pages.

There’s no higher definition than seeing something in person, and this year is the first in a long time where the auction, taking place at the Belknap Mall, can accommodate a large audience.

In order to make sure that all of the proceeds of the auction go to nonprofits, the all-volunteer event has always sought a vacant space to borrow. It takes a lot of square footage to put on the auction, and there hasn’t been much room left for viewers in recent years. That changes this year, as the auction will be taking over the cavernous space that was recently vacated by the Peeble’s department store.

“It’s very exciting. We haven’t had this much space since we were at the Lake Opechee Conference Center. We’re excited to have the public come and enjoy it,” said Jaimie Sousa, president of the Children’s Auction board. “We used to have a lot more seating for people to come and watch. They would come and bid on things while they were there and looking at it in person.”

The extra space is also making it possible to welcome other community organizations to set up, such as a barbershop that will cut hair for donations to the auction, and for nonprofits to set up tables and spread the word about the work that they do.

“We also have bigger doors for bigger items to come in,” Sousa said. “We could always use more items. People always like to wait until we’re on location, so we are always a little bit slow on Tuesday.”

Get a sneak peek at the set by dropping off an item for the auction on Monday, from 9 to 3 p.m.

Broad impact

It seems that, every year since it started, the Children’s Auction has broken the prior year’s record. Last year, the amount raised was $580,584, which was distributed to more than 50 local organizations within 60 days of the event.

Daisy Blaisdell, interim director of the Twin Rivers Interfaith Food Pantry in Franklin, said her organization received a $5,000 grant last year, which was “huge” for the pantry.

“It enabled us to start a program that we had wanted to start for quite some time,” she said. The program they started is called Feed the Need. “It is a program that supplies supplemental weekend food for hungry kiddos in the Franklin School District.”

The Food Pantry was able to get the program up and running by April, and by the end of the last school year, the program had helped 133 individual children, who access to food a cumulative 568 times. So far, Feed the Need has provided more than 4,000 meals to Franklin children.

“The money does go a long way, because we shop at the New Hampshire Food Bank for a lot of stuff that we’re sending out, and Hannaford in Franklin has been very supportive,” Blaisdell said. “We are just grateful. We would not have been able to do that without [Children’s Auction] funding.”

The mentoring program Big Brothers Big Sisters of New Hampshire had just come to Laconia last year, said Casey Caster, vice-president of community relations, and the $10,000 grant they received helped them hit the ground running.

“It was incredible to come into the Lakes Region, not be there really long, and get funding from the Children’s Auction. It has helped us to make more matches and ramp up our expansion,” Caster said.

So far, her organization has matched up 18 local children with local adults who have committed to mentoring them. Caster said that the auction also invited Big Brothers Big Sisters to set up a table during the event to attract more mentors.

“I was blown away by how much they raise, and how big it is,” Caster said of the auction. “It’s a really unique thing that you guys have there, it’s really neat.”

Another new beneficiary of the Children’s Auction last year was TIGER, a traveling group based at Plymouth State University that performs educational theater for school children around New England. Trish Lindberg, artistic director and co-founder of the troupe, said the plays teach children about topics ranging from kindness and resilience to the hazards of opioids.

“The auction was awesome to us because they gave us a grant so that we could go to schools that couldn’t afford us to come,” she said.

In addition to the funding, she said she also appreciated the way beneficiaries were treated.

“Going to the award ceremony last year, it was such a great experience. They made you feel that you were valued. Many of these organizations that were awarded money from the Children’s Auction, we quietly go about our work in our own little bubbles. To have one larger organization, community-based, to say that our work is valued, is a real boost to us,” Lindberg said.

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