Uniquely decorated furniture
Pictured: “SpongeBob Chair”
In spring 2010, the Meadowview Elementary PTO in Oak Creek, Wis., held its 4th annual “Great Chair-ity Auction,” which has turned into the group’s largest community event and fundraiser. During a live auction, attendees can bid on one-of-a-kind chairs and other furniture items decorated by school staff, families, and even community members.
Fun community event
Pictured: “Butterfly Table and Chair”
The live auction is the cornerstone of a free, one-day community event packed with other attractions, including raffles, performances, a silent auction, and activities for kids such as a bounce house and carnival games.
Planning starts early
Pictured: “Island Time Stools”
Planning for the event begins in October. A committee of about 12 parents and staff members is responsible for all logistics, marketing, and soliciting donations, then communicates with the rest of the PTO members and staff at the 425-student, K-5 school. Donations range from items for themed gift baskets to experiences like “principal for the day” and services from parents like sewing lessons.
A borrowed idea
Pictured: “Harry Potter Chair”
The first Chair-ity Auction, in 2007, grew out of an idea brought to the PTO by Jeff Peterson, Meadowview’s principal at that time and a hobby woodworker. Parent leaders then attended a similar auction in a nearby school district and decided to give it a go for themselves.
More than just chairs
Pictured: “Post-It Table”
The term “chair” is used loosely: The live auction often includes a variety of furniture, including stools, garden pieces, bookshelves, and desks. While some items are built from scratch, most are secondhand pieces remade into originals through the magic of paint and decoupage.
Pictured: “Americana Bench”
For the 2010 auction, former principal Peterson created a spindle-backed bench with a patriotic theme (shown above). Current Meadowview Elementary principal Mark Weerts also contributed an item, a wooden Adirondock-style chair with a carved apple motif.
School staff gets involved
Pictured: “Backyard Bookshelf”
Meadowview teachers are each asked to provide a chair for the live auction, although it’s up to them how to proceed. Some request help from parents or might even ask the class parents to take over the project entirely. School secretaries, cafeteria staff, classroom aides, custodians, and other staff members have also been known to contribute.
Pictured: “Toy Story Chair”
Many teachers try to include their students in the process. Depending on the classroom, children have helped with developing the idea for the chair, sanding, and painting. Chairs are frequently signed by the class, and their thumbprints, photos, or names may be incorporated into the design.
Themes from children's literature
Pictured: “Diary of a Wimpy Kid Desk”
Teachers using the auction as a class project will often look to children’s literature for inspiration. Items based on Dr. Seuss, the Magic Treehouse series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and others have been featured on the auction block.
Inspiration is everywhere
Pictured: “Big Bird Chair”
Sports teams, TV shows, and movies make for popular themes, too; in one case, an authentic feather and signed photograph from Sesame Street’s Big Bird prompted a chair to be designed around that character.
Supporting a good cause
Pictured: “Just Right Chair”
A “charity chair” is auctioned each year, as well; the proceeds from its sale go directly to a designated nonprofit. (Past recipients include the Make-a-Wish Foundation and a local homeless shelter.) In 2010, it wasn’t a chair at all—inspired by the book The Giving Tree, the PTO pulled together a small apple tree from a nursery and a collection of children’s books.
Pictured: “Rooster Stool and Dishes”
With more than 40 hand-decorated masterpieces for the live auction and all the products and services offered during the silent auction—plus the rest of the games and attractions—the Chair-ity Auction needs a lot of volunteer power. To help take some of the load off school parents, Meadowview PTO leaders tap student service groups like the National Honor Society to assist that day.
Professional gets results
Pictured: “Brewers Bench”
One area where the PTO doesn’t skimp: Parent leaders always hire a professional auctioneer. He knows how to excite the crowd and elicit higher bids, and he can handle credit card processing.
Pictured: “Best Care in the Air Chair”
With the auctioneer’s help, some items have sold for as much as $800, although most average in the $100 to $200 range. Even with the economic challenges faced by community members, the event has grossed about $19,000 each year, two-thirds of that from the live auction alone.
Continuing the tradition
Pictured: “Zoo Chair”
Meadowview PTO leaders say the Chair-ity Auction is an opportunity to learn about each others’ talents, interests, and abilities, and they encourage contributions from everyone in the broader community. While the majority of attendees are still Meadowview families and staff members, it is increasingly attended by relatives, neighbors, community members, and political and business leaders, and is now considered part of the school’s identity.