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Stuff and nonsense

The 44th annual Rotary Auction promises a little bit of everything this Saturday.

Like the storm surge of “The Day After Tomorrow” – a wall of water that buried Manhattan in the recent blockbuster film – the growing stream of stuff arriving curbside threatens to engulf Woodward Middle School.

Donations for the Rotary Auction and Rummage Sale, to be held from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 26, are being disgorged at a rate that would bring the mound of bicycles and backpacks, golf bags and gizmos level with the roof – if the piles weren’t simultaneously whittled away by volunteers who lug the goods off in shopping carts, wheelbarrows, handcarts and a red wagon.

“It’s absolutely fantastic that so many people contribute,” said Rotarian Jim Chapel, this year’s event chair. “We have 600 volunteers sorting donations into 33 departments.”

The compendium of articles is so exhaustive that a Stone Age time-traveler dropped onto the site could do one-stop shopping for the accoutrements to contemporary life – and then some.

The Bainbridge Flintstone could furnish three dozen houses, drive a caravan of cars, and wear a new tie every day for months. He or she could find every conceivable consumer good – and some that are inconceivable, like a “five-tyke trike” donated this year.

Once carted away from the curb, the goods are sorted into orderly, if mind-bogglingly expansive, arrays; in the sporting goods section, golf clubs laid on tables glint in the sun like a shiny river; nearby a row of upright skis points skyward like an off-kilter picket fence.

And if the tangle of treadmills and rowing machines exudes a faint miasma of broken New Year’s resolutions and failed diets, many will soon be reinvested with potential, carried off by enthusiastic purchasers next Saturday.

Among the furniture arrayed around the south lot, there’s a discernible class system in force, as volunteers triage donations into “fine furniture” slated for a silent bid inside a tent, and less-expensive items displayed outside.

Staking out a dominant spot among the dressers and end tables, rows of couches telegraph a suggestion to the Rotary volunteers that gets more explicit as the week wears on: Lie down.

“It’s pretty hard work,” Rotarian Don Manino admits. “Let’s say we all sleep well at night.”

Inside the tent, Patti Shannon and a cadre of about 12 helpers, including interior decorator Jamie Casey, will have put in about 400 hours by Saturday, arranging the fine furniture into “rooms” with distinctive themes and pulling items from the other departments to “accessorize.”

They’ve assembled ensembles that show off a burled walnut table, wicker and bamboo patio furniture; an art deco dresser, vanity and night stand set; and a Southwest walnut hutch and trestle table, among other displays.

All the furniture must be repaired and polished, all the rugs and upholstery cleaned.

“There’s a lot of heavy lifting,” Shannon said, “but we have a seasoned core. The ladies who work in the tent, and the men who help out, tend to volunteer year after year because it’s fun. It’s a community.”

The community includes not only club members who show up every year, but one-timers and kids of all ages. Woodward eighth-grader Raquel Alba, whose job Monday was handing out candy to other volunteers, likes the assignment that has her covering all of WMS.

“Yeah,” she said, “it’s pretty fun.”

Where it goes

The Rotary Auction has developed customs and culture since the first event, held in 1960 to raise money to build Bainbridge’s public library.

Rotarian Joanne Ellis, who has worked the auction since 1993, said, “We raised $5,300 the first year and that built the library. The next year we raised $3,700 for the furniture. Then they decided, ‘this is a pretty good way to work in the community.’”

Auction proceeds are divided in two, with half given out annually in grants and scholarships that may be as small as a few hundred dollars; the balance, dubbed the Judd Huney Fund for the club’s charter member (see Obituaries, page A12), is disbursed every few years to support capital projects like the Boys and Girls Club of Bainbridge Island and the Don Nakata Memorial Pool.

As more money is raised each year, extending a helping hand to more projects becomes possible.

The 2002 auction brought in $220,000 and last year’s event $266,000 in just six hours.

With donations 20 percent ahead of last year’s, 2004 proceeds could top $300,000.

In addition, Year 11 of the event finds more and and better stuff being donated, Don Manino says – and, for the first time, the live and silent auction catalogues are featured on the Rotary website, with items like the Passat 2001 tandem kayak and a 14-foot Livingston boat with motor and trailer.

The only area where donations are down is “Uncle Roy’s Used Car Lot.” Although a 1984 Dodge Ram; a 1974 “Super Beetle”; a 1986 Toyota pickup; and a 1983 Datsun wagon are among the offerings, with car sales accounting for 10 percent of auction proceeds, event organizers hope for more before Saturday.

“We could use another five to 10 vehicles,” car lot manager Tom Pugh said. “Incentives to donate are twofold – the donor helps this charitable event, and also gets a substantial tax savings.”

When the auction ends at 2 p.m., treasures turn into junk that must be dispatched by 6.

“Recycling Czar” Howard Hanners oversees sorting the leftovers. Plastic cardboard and aluminum cans are recycled by Bainbridge Disposal; leftover grills and exercise equipment are salvaged for the metal.

“We’re seriously into recycling,” Hanners said. “Selfishly, the more we recycle the less we pay. We can have a $7,000 trash fee.”

Some goods get re-donated to charity; paperback books go to the prisons; cell-phones get distributed to battered women; and crutches head for Thailand.

Then, without much of a break, Rotary members will begin to shape the next auction. But they’ll be missing a key player; long-time Rotary member and auction volunteer Judd Huney died last Sunday, and many feel his loss and the absence of his widow, Alice.

“His presence is missed,” Ellis said. “Alice’s smile, Judd’s great stories, they are missed. Because part of what happens here is it becomes a community, a culture. We have people with a common goal, getting this stuff sorted, so there is a feeling we’re on an equal basis, regardless of age, profession, training or years of service.

“We are walking together, side by side.”

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