Thursday, November 14, 2013

Church teas and bazaars

Who doesn't have fond memories of the annual church tea and bazaar? I enjoyed them as a child, and I continue to enjoy them. They are wonderful community gatherings, but, as a fundraiser, they make little sense. My recent column looks at their mysterious fundraising logic that  tugs on our hearts and keeps the annual tradition thriving.

The mysterious fund raising logic of church teas

Image courtesy of Apolonia/
The annual fall church tea and bazaar has withstood the test of time. While it is assumed to be a good fundraiser, the real benefits of the event lay in its ability to strengthen the community. In fact, if we consider the cost of the event versus the funds raised, a church tea and bazaar, at least where I live, is an inefficient way of raising funds.  A few examples will illustrate my point.

At a church tea I recently attended, for the price of my $2 tea ticket, I received the equivalent of a sandwich and a selection of sweets, plus my beverage.  Certainly, the ingredients alone cost more than the ticket price.

This is also true for the bazaar where the value of the goods donated exceeds the sale price, and I am not even considering the value of people’s time and skill level. At the sewing and knitting tables, one can buy expertly made items for less than the cost of the materials. The same thing happens at the bake table.

Image courtesy of Marcus/
To give an example, I purchased cupcakes for 25 cents each.  Made from scratch (using butter not margarine), a frosted chocolate cupcake, in a paper baking cup, costs 69 cents.  Made from a cake mix, it’s 44 cents.

The mystery table is the most illogical of all
The mystery table, while extraordinarily fun, may quite possibly be the most illogical fundraiser ever conceived.  At this table, people purchase gifts that others have donated, wrapped, and labeled with the age range and sex for which the gift is most appropriate. Even if someone “re-gifts” an item, its value is greater than the standard mystery table price of a loonie or toonie.  A person can easily donate $20 or more in mystery gifts, only to sell them for a whopping $4 or $5. 

As a matter of economics, the logical conclusion is that the church tea and bazaar is inefficient as a fundraiser. So, why bother? Wouldn’t it be better if we all just made a cash donation?

Making money isn't everything
My unequivocal answer is, “No.” Not everything needs to make economic sense, nor are the most important things measured in dollar amounts.   There is more at stake here than making money.

While it is true that the event attracts more involvement from women than men, it brings together members of the church whose paths may typically cross only on a Sunday. It gives people the chance to work together towards a common goal despite their varied interests and abilities.

In a small town, at least, the church tea and bazaar is an ecumenical gathering as well as a popular gathering place for the secular community. At the church tea and bazaar, people renew acquaintances, catch up on family news, and make arrangements to get together.  There is a hustle and bustle about church teas that has more to do with relationships than with money.

Memories of the fishpond
I have wonderful memories of church teas that go back to childhood. The highlight of the bazaar was the “fishpond”. A nickel bought us a “fishing rod” that we dropped behind a bed sheet. We would pull up our fishing rod to find a paper fish attached which we exchanged for a prize.  I can still picture Mrs. Mallot, the woman who ran the fishpond for my entire childhood and beyond, sitting on a stool, surreptitiously attaching a fish to the paper clip.

As a young mother, the Saturday afternoon outing was a highlight. It gave me a chance to socialize with my peers, and the children looked forward to the little sandwiches without crusts, being with their grandmothers, and seeing their friends. Now, I enjoy helping out (you’ll find me at the mystery table) or simply attending the tea. The church tea and bazaar continues to enrich my experience of being a member of a community.

It fullfills the need to belong
The church tea and bazaar has withstood the test of time because it helps fulfill the basic human need of belonging. It is an inclusive event in which everyone, regardless of age, socio-economic status or belief, can participate.  The profits, though helpful for the church, are secondary to the task of bringing people together. We would be less of a community without it.

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