When I was a kid, my little parochial school–200 students, grades 1-8–had its major fundraiser the first Friday in May. The school cafeteria/gym became the venue for a pork chop meal, which I think everyone in the parish attended, whether they had a kid in the school or not. In the corner was a country store selling baked goods. My mother always sent four loaves of bread. Each classroom was converted into a booth: cake walk, wood burning, engraving, lollipop tree. The end of the building, blocking the main entrance, was a white elephant.
It was a community event, and utterly magical. We looked forward to it every year. My parents have a set of six huge globe goblets that my sisters and I won piecemeal over the course of years by throwing ping pong balls into them. (As a parent, I can now shake my head and imagine their reaction: “Oh, great, just what I wanted. More of those tacky goblets.”)
I thought of this about an hour into Julianna’s school spring festival on Friday night. It was supposed to be outside, but–big surprise, this ridiculous weather year–it was too cold and rainy. In keeping with modern America’s abysmal eating habits, the meal was hot dog, chips and a cookie instead of the pork chop, green beans & homemade desserts of my youth. There wasn’t a country store or a white elephant–but the classrooms were set up for bean bag toss, lollipop tree, and the like. Including a photo booth, where I volunteered for half an hour.
It was a bit chaotic. Michael was getting tired, and our whole family (except Christian) has been fighting the sore throat/cough bug. Michael began hurling himself to the floor and rolling around long before we ran out of tickets. Until he discovered a water fountain with a stool in front of it, that is. After that, he was in heaven.
It was such a fun evening. Crazy, yes, because the halls were crowded and it was tough to keep track of the kids. My memories of Mayfest involve us being cut loose, but of course we were older.
What struck me about the juxtaposition of memory on present is the rarity of events like these nowadays. Even my parochial school has abandoned Mayfest for the more profitable “auction” format. And I don’t like that format. I feel locked out of auction events, because we will never, ever be in the market for large ticket items, especially not at auction prices. And although there is a community aspect to an auction evening, it’s not the same. Auctions are adults only. Now, don’t misunderstand: I can certainly sympathize with the desire to spend time with other adults. But at the same time, it feels wrong to me somehow to remove the kids from the quotient. After all, we’re fundraising for the kids’ school. Why not make them part of it? Let them be invested? Make fundraising an event that not only raises money and builds community, but also gives families the chance to have fun together?
Maybe it’s not an either/or situation. The auctions certainly serve their function; they raise a ton of money. But wouldn’t it be wonderful to have those family events that bind communities together, too?
I guess the obstacle is that a spring festival requires a higher commitment level from the community. The need for volunteers is greater, the need for donations is greater; people need to take time to bake goods and make crafts and prepare homemade desserts and spend shifts in the kitchen and the game booths. You have to go through your closets looking for white elephants to donate. All the way around, a festival is a bigger commitment from the non-committee members, and the larger the school, the more unwieldy the practicalities. And the reality of urban life in the modern world is that it’s hard to get people to volunteer to the needed level. I’m as guilty as anyone else.
So maybe my idealized version of a school fundraiser is doomed to failure. But when I remember the festivals of my childhood, and when I see my kids enjoying the one at Julianna’s school, it makes me sad.