LACONIA — The Greater Lakes Region Children’s Auction, now in its 37th year, does more than just raise a tremendous amount of money for charity – it provides a reliable stream of funding for local nonprofits, and it’s a funding source that is overseen by people who know the Lakes Region’s needs and the organizations that address them.

The Children's Auction, which auctions donated items and collects donations from outside fundraisers such as Pub Mania, disburses its proceeds to a variety of local groups.

In Laconia, the Santa Fund — formerly known as the "Citizen Santa Fund" — was part of the auction very early on.

“We have been very fortunate that we have been recipients of the auction,” said Kim Lacasse.

Over the past couple of years, the Santa Fund has provided new outerwear, including boots, to children from Laconia, Gilford, Belmont, Bristol and Meredith.

“All elementary children and below receive jacket, snow pants and boots,” she said. “As much as we have in inventory goes out. Middle school and high school students receive jackets.”

Lacasse said: “This year, we have already supported 650 children, and we are only in the first part of December. This year already we had to support a couple of families due to fires in the Bristol area, which includes gift cards to Walmart in order for the families to have immediate access to their personal needs. We have also helped monetarily, and our board of directors have participated in raising money for a boy in Bristol who is in need of a service dog for severe peanut allergies.”

The Santa Fund’s purpose is to help meet the needs of underprivileged children and working families in the Lakes Region, and it also provides assistance to attend summer camps, specialty camps for those with medical needs, music, art, dance, sports and food assistance programs throughout the year.

Lacasse offered “a huge thank-you to the Children's Auction and our communities’ support and generosity.”

'It surprises me every year'

Christine Raffaelly of the Tilton-Northfield-Sanbornton Santa Fund said that, without the help they get — especially from the Children’s Auction and WFTN’s Cash-N-Cans drive — they wouldn’t be able to do what they do.

The T-N-S Santa Fund formed in 1987 to provide toys and food baskets to families in need. Raffaelly recalls placing cans in local stores to collect change, but it was hard to buy what was necessary to meet the need in those days. As the years went by and more people got involved, they were able to provide — in addition to the toys and the makings of a Christmas dinner — cold-weather clothing, including coats, mittens, and boots, for area families.

“So many people work behind the scenes,” she said, recognizing local organizations such as the American Legion, the Masons, and Rotarians – who take on a number of families and help deliver the items. The Tilton-Northfield Fire Department has a Gift of Warmth program, providing a number of coats. Pauli’s Restaurant, Tilton House of Pizza, and the Tilt’n Diner put up gift trees with cards describing what families need, and help collect gifts to meet those needs. The police department does a toy drive at Walmart on behalf of the T-N-S Santa Fund.

By partnering with the Children’s Auction a few years ago, the T-N-S Santa Fund was able to “at least double what we were able to give children,” Raffaelly said. “Now they get all the outside clothing they need, as well as Christmas presents — nice things, and a pretty good-sized bag of stuff — as well as the Christmas dinners.”

She sees a growing need as families deal with the impact of the opioid epidemic. “So many people are in jail or can’t function, so a lot of grandparents are caring for their grandchildren, and that’s a huge impact on the need in our towns,” she said. “It’s a big problem and affects everybody, especially families, who lose their homes and their kids.”

Through the Children’s Auction and other supporters, the T-N-S Santa Fund is helping to meet the need. Last year, it served 116 families, including 162 children and 147 adults (food and gifts for the elderly).

“It’s unbelievable,” Raffaelly said. “People are very generous, and it surprises me every year, how generous.”

Jim Nute, executive director of the Mayhew Program, also sees the Children’s Auction as crucial for its work with at-risk boys.

Mayhew has received grants from the Children’s Auction for the past two years — $5,000 in 2017 and $10,000 this year — and Nute said the support is “vital to bringing boys to the island and following up during the year.”

Mayhew serves boys who are struggling at home or at school, providing an intensive residential program on Mayhew Island in Newfound Lake during the summer, then following their progress and offering mentoring during the school year.

“It’s an eight-year experience,” Nute said, “starting when they’re 10 or 11, and we stay with them through graduation, visiting them on a regular basis throughout the year.”

He recently received an email from one alumnus, “David,” who grew up in Laconia. David, who entered the program at age 10 and is now 27, thanked the Mayhew program for its help and guidance, saying he finally had the courage to leave his job at a fast-food place and get a job as a correctional officer with the state of New Hampshire, allowing him to pursue his interest in criminal justice.

“We are deeply thankful for the Children’s Auction,” Nute said. “We know it’s a huge community effort, and are astounded by the commitment of the volunteers, the organizers, and those who buy at the auction. We’re humbled and inspired by the effort and the financial support that is vital to Mayhew’s ability to help boys.”

Other organizations that are grateful to the Children’s Auction include the Inter-Lakes Got Lunch! Program, which Tom Witham says gets a significant part of its funding from the auction.

Got Lunch! provided food for 86 families — 187 children — in 11,000 meals last year.

“The Children’s Auction got the program going and it’s been important in sustaining it,” he said.

In some cases, the Children’s Auction proceeds have benefited children directly. About 20 years ago, said Diane Daoust, a Gilford resident, she had two boys who shared one bicycle, which meant that they couldn’t go for rides together. Until the Children’s Auction provided one.

“It meant a lot, because their friends were riding their bikes, and he didn’t have one… That helped a lot,” she said.

The feeling stuck with her, even two decades later, and on Friday, Daoust arrived at the auction headquarters with a donation of some of her hand-made jewelry, so that the auction could continue to generate money to help others.

“I just think it’s a good thing,” Daoust said.

Strengthening families

At the Family Resource Center, Children’s Auction support is used to strengthen local families. Erin Pettengill, director of the Family Resource Center – part of Lakes Region Community Services located in Laconia – said funding from the Children’s Auction allows the agency to provide parent education classes, in which parents take class while their children are simultaneously attending another session. The classes are held both at the Family Resource Center and at locations around the Lakes Region, and they owe their existence to the Children’s Auction.

“The children’s auction gives us the ability to hold classes and offer new curriculum that we wouldn’t be able to do if we didn’t get that funding,” Pettengill said. “We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without the children’s auction funding.”

The Children’s Auction support is unique among the funding streams available to local organizations such as Lakes Region Community Services. Because it comes from local sources, the people who sit on the auction’s disbursement committee see how the money is being used to help.

“One of the beauties of the children’s auction is the money comes from the local community and back into the local community,” said Pettengill. That results in funding sources that are stable and reliable. Other grant sources tend to come and go. “They don’t see what we do every single day because they are not the people that we serve.”

Leveraging connections

And because of that local connection, the Children’s Auction funds can be leveraged in cases of an emergency.

That was what Marti Ilg, executive director of Lakes Region Childcare Services, learned several years ago when she was informed that the six cribs in her nonprofit organization’s infant and toddler program were no longer acceptable and would have to be replaced in order to remain in compliance.

“The cost was out of reach for us at the time, which for us, constituted an emergency,” Ilg said. She picked up the phone, called someone she knew on the board, and, “Within a day, we had money in hand to purchase these cribs, they were delivered in time and we were not out of compliance… It allowed us to continue to operate, serving these babies while their parents were at work, without interruption.”

Ilg said the Children’s Auction’s support has allowed the organization to constantly ratchet up the quality of its services by investing in things such as staff training and equipment, one-time expenses that bear fruit for years to come.

“To our organization, the impact is compounded over time because we use it to invest in programming, in furnishings and equipment, in staff training, we’ve used it to purchase cribs, to furnish playgrounds, we expanded our infant-toddler slot, so from my perspective it’s a relatively small part of our overall budget, but the impact is a wonderful investment because it compounds over time,” Ilg said. “It provides us to offer a level of quality that we would not be able to offer from fees for service alone. We provide almost 60,000 days of childcare to the Lakes Region… 60,000 days a year, our community is benefiting from the children’s auction. It’s amazing, really.”

From Ilg’s perspective, the Greater Lakes Region Children’s Auction has come to represent something intrinsic about central New Hampshire.

“To me, the people who participate in the Children’s Auction, they exemplify the spirit of generosity that is present in our community.”

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