Dear friends of Switchback,
Jet-lagged and grumpy, I received the text message from my best friend Dave Heuvelman. His son Dominic was enrolled in a “fun-run” at school. The school hired a company to help organize the run.
“C’mon, Mack,” Dave said. “John (our other buddy from high school) has pledged, and you are not going to let him outdo you, are you?”
I rolled my eyes. Since the days of Socrates, sitting there with all of his students around him in Greece, there has been the concept of the fundraiser for schools. “If we raise enough drachma, kids, I am going to drink this poison hemlock,” said Socrates. “And we will do it by selling chocolate!”
We’ve come a long way, baby. Now there is a flashy video program and a whole team of professionals that descend upon the school to help create what is called fun-run.com. The idea is simple: put on a healthy run around the school and people can pledge for a child per lap with a total of 35 laps. The company that runs this event is called Boosterthon. It was started by a couple who earnestly pitch the story about how their passion is making a better fundraising experience for schools around the country. That made me think about how the old days were.
Back in the day, which for me was 1969, I had my first chance to go fundraising for Holy Cross School in Deerfield, IL. It was before my family moved to Woodstock and I was in first grade. The fundraiser for the school was brilliantly simple. We sold plastic bags of candy before Halloween. The bags were made with an image of a ghost with a pumpkin head and could double as a puppet once the candy was exhausted. My brothers and I hawked the goods from door to door and learned the valuable lesson of entrepreneurship: rejection from little old ladies.
That lesson was duly embraced by my siblings who all went into secure nine to five jobs later in life. For me, I guess I am still learning.
The second aspect was that about a month later we would be going from door to door, this time dressed up for Halloween. We would get back that candy from the little old ladies we sold to in the first place. It seemed unfair.
When we moved to Woodstock, I thought I had ditched the last of fundraising for the school. But at St. Mary’s School, I came face to face with the Morely Chocolate Company, a company that was founded in Detroit in 1919. The company was known for its “Bumpy Cake,” which is still considered a delicacy in Michigan. But the sinister side of the company was the enslavement of grade schoolers to push the product in the name of fundraising. The company would deliver boxcars filled with boxes of chocolates which were then brought to the school to be sold by us kids. Door to door. To little old ladies. Turtles, mints, peanut butter clusters. A whole arsenal of chocolate at our disposal. The competition was fierce, with the kid who sold the most getting a prize, which was usually a Schwinn 10-speed bike.
It was pretty tough for us McCormack kids, as we were competing against each other selling boxes of chocolates in the chocolate-saturated market that Woodstock quickly became. Because we lived out in the country, we had to be dropped off in town to sell the wares. Once again, the valuable lesson of entrepreneurship was there for the learning: “band together and sell the chocolate so one brother wins the prize, and you can all then share that prize.”
However, my brothers and I never learned that one as our parents had raised us to “be individuals.” And so we flailed about town, lugging our cartons of chocolate and competing against our classmates and each other.
My dad, being a dentist, was never too keen on the whole idea of selling candy. Mom did her best to buy what she could in an attempt to be fair with her sugar-selling brood. And it was far easier to surrender to the chocolate and just eat what we should be selling. For about eight weeks we would feast on various boxes of chocolate that never made it to the neighborhoods of Woodstock.
However, this too eventually lost its luster and we would have to lug back the unsold cartons and hand in whatever money we gleaned. The prize would go to the kid whose parents wrote a check to buy the whole lot of candy he or she was selling. That kid learned a valuable lesson in entrepreneurship: “It is good to have patrons, even better if they are your parents.” The 10-speed Schwinn bicycle would be paraded in front of the rest of us sullen kids, who were coming down from a collective sugar high. Life was unfair.
When I went to high school, it was the World’s Finest Chocolate Company. We would have a big pep rally in the gym with the cheerleaders doing routines out on the floor. The boxes of the World’s Finest Chocolate (which was debatable) were piled up on the floor, a stack for each class.
Our principal Mr. Hartlieb would make an impassioned plea about how important it was for each student to sell, sell, sell and help Marian Central buy sports equipment. And once again, we would lug the bars of candy back to the farm and go about attempting to sell chocolate between chores, homework, and running cross country.
Disheartened by the chocolate-hating little old ladies, we would then despondently eat the bars of chocolate, further sending our family into debt and diabetes. My father would shake his head as he wrote the check to cover the candy we ate. We would then lug back the unsold boxes and be humiliated as the kid with parents who bought the whole shipment would get the Schwinn 10-speed bike.
So when my buddy Dave reached out to me in the attempt to help Dominic achieve his goal of a zillion dollars, I immediately saw turtles. I sent off money to him and warned him that “what goes around comes around.”
And it did, about five days later.
Aine came out of class excitedly wearing a paper crown that was festooned with directions for enrolling in the fun-run. A group of bubbly college-age students wearing blue shirts were busy loading up the van with speakers, banners, and a vast propaganda machine to promote the fun-run. It took me about half an hour to comprehend what was going on at Our Lady of Perpetual Fundraising. It was back again, but this time in 21st century slickness. I sat stunned at my computer as the video with an excited announcer’s voice mentioned how much this helps the school, the children, and the community.
And so here is the link to Aine’s pledge page. And yes, it will please me to no end to have folks pledge and raise money for her school. It is a good school after all, and Aine is soooo excited that this event is about to take place. And yes, I do think Boosterthon is on to something positive here.
I don’t know how many laps she’ll run. Perhaps it is a good thing not to send our children into the community to sell chocolate anymore. Perhaps running around a track levels the playing field and eliminates that spoiled kid who gets the 10 speed bike because his parents bought all the chocolate. Perhaps.
I think I will go eat some chocolate now.
~ Martin McCormack
American Roots & Celtic Soul