May Fest


Spring Festival Photo BoothWhen 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.

12 thoughts on “May Fest

  1. Kelley

    All the schools I’ve worked at or that my kids have attended have fundraisers similar to Parkade’s festival. I think it’s totally possible and so fun for everyone!

  2. Around here, school/church fairs are big business for Catholic schools/parishes; many raising over $100,000 in a good year. We did last year; this year we got rained out on Sunday, so probably won’t be as good. Yes, the fair needs plenty of volunteers, and often it is the same people camping out almost the whole weekend, but over the last 20 years I’ve seen our parish fair move from something staffed almost completely by volunteers to one where they rent booth space to local businesses, who then staff the ice cream booth (DQ), the pizza booth (Papa Johns or Dominos), the smoothie booth and the roasted corn booth. We still have the silly carnival games for the kids but the big money comes because we hire bands at night and sell lots of food and drink. The public schools don’t get in on this game because they aren’t allowed to sell alcohol and without the people and money the bands bring in (and the folks who come to hear the bands want alcohol) the rest of it just doesn’t pay enough to make it worth it.

    • You always have such good comments. I’m all on fire to volunteer on the committee next year, and I’m totally stealing some of these ideas. I do think the booze makes a difference, but if the public schools all use this format around here, as Kelley says, then maybe that doesn’t matter…

  3. excellent juxtapostion of present and past- it WORKS. I love it. All my kids went from grade 1 to grade 8 at St.Michael’s, a school of 210-220 kids. The Christmas Pagent with angels and shepards changed to a Spring Concert about 8-10 years ago!!!

  4. Mary Micaela Wright

    We used to have Penny Parties. All the games around the school court yard at Our Lady of Lourdes in Slidell, Louisiana cost 1 penny to play. All the chances on the guessing games (how many beans in a jar) were 1 penny. Now this was in the 1950’s a penny went much further. Ok, Ok I’m dating myself. But it was such fun. In the same year, I won the $10 in the bean jar AND the live ram from the Bennets Forest Lawn Cemetery that was born during the live Christmas manger scene. Good thing we lived in the country. Boy my Mother was a real champ!

  5. If you are stealing our ideas, the basic fair around here starts Friday night and goes to about 11, with a band (the kind that play these fairs and local nightclubs and wedding receptions) from about 8-11. On Saturday it starts about noon and they usually have school classes performing early, to encourage attendance. Saturday afternoon is a good time to get the younger kids out to ride the rides because the lines aren’t so long (oh, yeah, that’s the other big money maker, the ride company–I think the percentage split depends on how much they expect to make at your fair. We had a band starting at 4 this year and another at eight p.m. The fair shuts down at 11 on Sat night and at midnite, Fr. offers mass for the workers. On Sunday startup is about noon, and the kids perform shortly thereafter. Again, a band at 4 and another at 8; shutdown at 11. The next day there is no school, and people are encouraged to come help clean up. The big money-makers are the raffle, the parade of prizes and the food and drink. There is a plate lunch in the cafeteria on Friday and Saturday, and then outside you can buy friend seafood or various sandwiches from the parish along with vendor food. The soft drink booth and the beer/daqueri booths are big too, The other stuff, most booths profit under $1000.

    When my kids were in public school we did fairs some years. The ride company ended up with the lion’s share of the ride money. We had food and games and ended up making about $30,000 for the weekend but most of that was from school families; there was little outside money whereas the church fairs get plenty of outside money from the folks who come to listen to the bands–but without the beer money we couldn’t afford to hire the bands.

      • Actually, it’s pretty middle of the road. The BIG ones figure out a theme that they repeat yearly so that it becomes an area-wide draw, like the Gumbo Festival or the Crawfish Festival or the Creole Tomato Festival or the Alligator Festival..

  6. barbaraschoeneberger

    I’m with you on involving the kids in fair type events. Good for a sense of ownership. And it’s good, wholesome fun, too.

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