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Bainbridge Rotary hopes to eclipse '07 auction total of $280K

Volunteer Marielle Summers dusts off a custom-made dollhouse during setup for this weekend’s Rotary Auction and Rummage Sale at Woodward Middle School. - Douglas Crist photo
Volunteer Marielle Summers dusts off a custom-made dollhouse during setup for this weekend’s Rotary Auction and Rummage Sale at Woodward Middle School.
— image credit: Douglas Crist photo

Go ahead.

Try to explain the Rotary Auction to someone who’s never experienced it. According to Bainbridge Rotary President and former auction chair Joanne Ellis, doing so is nearly impossible.

For one thing, the event – a frenzied week of activity that culminates this weekend in a gargantuan garage sale – is always changing, always evolving.

It’s not that it unfolds aimlessly; without extensive planning and organization, Ellis said, the auction wouldn’t have raised $280,000 last year for charity. It’s just that after 48 years, it has developed its own elusive personality.

“That’s the thing about the auction,” Ellis said. “It’s always so quirky.”

Take this year’s event, preparations for which have been ongoing for months and shifted into full gear last week when donations began to arrive.

There are, of course, the more conventional items. Television sets. Bikes and trikes. A sea of sofas, skis and souvenirs.

Then there are the offbeat items – a foghorn was among the things donated this week – whose practical uses are in some cases difficult to decipher.

Finally there are the many, many items that boast both uniqueness and utility, such as a ladder designed to help a swimming dog board a boat.

“I Googled that one the other day and found out it retails for $250,” assistant auction chair Patti Shannon said of the doggy ladder.

Untold thousands of items will be available this weekend at Woodward Middle School and online as part of the event, organized by Rotarians and supported by dozens of local businesses and organizations. Auction-associated activities will run throughout the week (see box for details).

Proceeds go toward a variety of causes – the largest chunk of money from last year’s auction benefited IslandWood, the smallest went to a high school student who bakes birthday cakes for Helpline House.

Donated items will be accepted until 8:30 p.m. today. Volunteers are accepted any time, as long as they check in first.

Several subtle changes have been implemented this year, but the mission of the auction remains the same: “community above self,” said auction chair Norm Davis. Organizers have placed a greater emphasis on entertainment, bringing in local performers to grace volunteers at post-work dinners. Over the past few years the auction has increasingly used the Internet to boost its profile and conduct its business.

Web surfers can bid until 6 p.m. today on more than 120 items – including a week in Provence and a day in Olympia with Bainbridge-based state Sen. Phil Rockefeller – at www.bainbridgeislandrotary.org. Traditionalists can bid in person Friday at Woodward.

Volunteers were busy sorting through a Woodward classroom full of soon-to-be-sold computer equipment Monday.

As one might expect, the machines arrive in various states of repair.

“We can fix most of them or scrap them out to build something useful,” said Erik Anderson, who has manned the computer department for the past eight years. “This year has been kind of slow so far, but we do have quite a few laptops. Last year there were only a few.”

Like computers, car inventory is down in 2008. The auction has received eight automobiles so far, compared to 18 last year. Still, there are some choice models, if you ask volunteer Paul Heys.

Among them is a red Buick Century – perhaps poised to become someone’s first car – which on Monday sparkled in a moment of sun.

“I would let my mother drive this one,” Heys said, doing his best car salesmen impression before striking a more serious tone. “People are good about supporting us. We get a lot of good safe cars and we make sure they’re all running and street legal.”

Across the campus, Frank Bachman paused to survey a gathering of lanterns in the sporting goods section. It’s his seventh year as an auction volunteer. Much of the camping equipment has to go outside, he said, especially the tents, which are erected for show in the parking lot. It all amounts to a lot of work, Bachman said – but it’s good work.

“Half of this is just about recycling,” he said. “Right now we’re just starting to test (the lanterns) to see if they work.”

The same process applies to pretty much everything at the auction, Davis said. Donated items are first sorted. Those that can be sold are sent to the appropriate department – 32 in all – to be displayed for sale. Many items can’t be sold or given away, which is why some 64 tons of auction material was recycled last year.

One way or the other, everything goes. And it usually goes fast.

“By noon,” Davis said. “Most of the quote ‘good’ stuff is gone.”

Some of it will come back at future auctions; organizers say it’s not uncommon for people to buy something with the intent of donating it back to Rotarians the following year.

Standing near a pair of plastic owls and an entire family of similarly constructed raccoons, Wayne Nakata agreed that the good stuff never lasts. He spends every year working the gardening section, which, by midday Monday, was already overflowing with weed eaters and other popular tools.

“The surprising thing is that all of this stuff will be down to one table after a few hours,” he said.

Sharon Ostenson has worked eight years at the auction. She and other volunteers faced the monumental task of sorting through a mountain of clothing.

“It’s like a little ant hill,” she said as she watched workers surround a load tumbling off the dump truck.

Visitors there will pay $10 per grocery bag of clothes; a similar deal is available inside at the book department – lots of bulk for only a few bucks.

“People are so stretched right now,” Shannon said. “The cost of fuel is rising, the cost of health care is rising. This is a good way for people to spend their money.”

Which, after all, is the point – along with uniting the community around a common cause.

“It’s a little bit like summer camp,” Ellis said. “Everyone is in the spirit of working hard but having a good time.”

Davis agreed.

“Everyone comes together,” he said. “Politics, arguments outside in the community – they don’t matter here.”

And, although organizers are quick to praise the more than 1,000 volunteers who make the auction possible, most are also quick to acknowledge that it remains an entity unto itself.

“The auction would happen with or without us,” Davis said. “It takes on a life of its own.”

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Ready to Rummage?

Final preparations began last week for the 2008 Rotary Auction, to take place this weekend at Woodward Middle School. Donations must be dropped off by 8:30 p.m. today. Some items may require a disposal donation, which is in some cases tax deductible.

The festivities begin Friday with the Preview Night and Merchant Silent Auction, between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Admission is a $1 donation that includes a chance to win $500 in groceries from Town & Country Market. Tickets are available at the door or from a Rotarian.

The Merchant Live Auction is also Friday, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The rummage sale runs between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday.

All events are at Woodward.

Kitsap Transit will provide shuttle service from Ordway Elementary School, Bethany Lutheran Church, Bainbridge Alliance Church and Bainbridge First Baptist Church. The shuttle runs between 7:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Saturday.

For more information go to www.bainbridgeislandrotary.org or call 842-9111.

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