BANGOR, Maine — Something magical is taking shape in the labyrinthine cellar at the Hammond Street Senior Center. It has become the staging area for the center’s It’s a Basket Case, a gift basket silent auction, the major fundraiser of the year for the organization of 2,500 members.
“It started as a vague idea,” said Kathy Bernier, executive director of the center. “It grew from the time I worked at Aunt Nellie’s Attic in Holden, the center’s resale shop, when I was surrounded by all that wonderful stuff.” Her ‘aha’ moment is now in its sixth year and will manifest itself again Monday, Dec. 5, through Friday, Dec. 9, when nearly 200 gift baskets will be auctioned.
Bernier selects items to fill the baskets according to themes that bubble from her mind as she surveys the “ingredients” the cellar contains — everything donated and neatly sorted by volunteer Deb Clayton into categories such as gypsies, hunting, sports, friends, lovers and animals. Examples of themes Bernier draws from those collected treasures are “Little Red Riding Hood,” based on the childhood story, complete with a wolf and a doll wearing a red cape; “Japan,” featuring tea and several delicate dishes, one with a fish limned in darker blue; “Casinos,” containing gift certificates donated by Hollywood Slots and items pertaining to gaming; and “The Bucket List,” with a copy of the DVD by the same name and a handmade book for writing one’s own list. Other themes include “Basket of Vices,” “Birds,” “Dreams,” “Gone With the Wind” and “Bugs and Frogs” with items donated from the Maine Discovery Museum.
The baskets contain something for everyone.
“Each basket contains something old and unusual, as well as something new, such as gift certificates, that add value,” said Mary Collins, development and communications directer at the center, whose job it is to bring basket sponsors on board in support of the effort. So far, she said, 60 area sponsors have supported the auction by donating gift certificates, merchandise and funding. Additional sponsors are welcome and encouraged to take part.
Crucial to the It’s a Basket Case event are volunteers Sally Polyot and Gayle Crowley, both of Bangor, who number each basket and list its contents so Linda Richard of Carmel and Pam Mitchell of Brewer can do the computer magic to produce bidding sheets and other necessary tools to keep track of bids. Kim Spaulding, a Beal College student, also assists with the effort. The men of the center, Bernier said, set up display tables and carry the brimming baskets up from the cellar into the excitement of bidding week.
“It’s so much fun to see what has been put into the basket, then thinking up a clever name to describe it,” said Polyot. So far, her favorite name from a previous gift basket auction is Desperate Housewives, which she used to describe a basket filled with cleaning supplies.
“The most exciting thing is the day we find out who wins each basket,” Crowley said. She said she is always thinking about things that can go into a gift basket. She and her daughter frequent yard sales in the summer months, always on the lookout for special things they can donate to the basket auction.
For Bernier, who began filling baskets on Nov. 1, one of the pleasures of bringing the auction into being is figuring out how all those stored-away treasures in the cellar fit together to carry forth each theme she dreams up.
The auction’s fundraising goal, Bernier said, is $8,000. The basket raffle is especially important since this marks the first year the center is on its own to find funding. The center, now a freestanding nonprofit organization, was funded previously by the Couri Foundation.
Members’ enthusiasm to donate items for the gift basket auction is seemingly never ending. While Bernier was busy in the cellar, center member and artist Jean Alderman, formerly of Bangor but now living in Skowhegan, stepped off the elevator and into the cellar bearing a wooden oval box and a toy sled on which she had painted lovely winter scenes. “These are for the basket auction,” she said.
“Support for the basket auction grows every year,” Bernier said. “All the baskets get sold.”
It’s a Basket Case bidding will begin during regular business hours, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 5, and continue through Friday, Dec. 9. The center will be open until 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 8, to allow viewing and bidding to those unable to attend the final day of bidding. Proceeds from the raffle will benefit the many programs offered by the center.
For information about the auction and how to bid by phone, or to sign on as a sponsor, call 262-5532 or visit hammondstreet.org.