What Can I Get? What Can I Give?

She was in line to win $7,500. It wouldn’t cover college costs for her children, but still, that’s not chump change. Then she stepped forward.

“I want to auction off my number …” People were a bit confused at first, but then we got it. She was walking away from the $7,500, looking to add more money to the till – not that it would have any impact on the prize money. Whatever amount came in for her number would be donated to the larger cause.

I’ve seen it happen now for five years – a large group of people getting together for what seems to be two reasons: To give money away, and to have fun while they’re doing it. The cause? The Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf.

Can I get three hundred,” barks one of the MC’s into his mic. He hardly gets the words out of his mouth before a hand pops up and the people at the table cheer.

I remember the first time I attended the “Feast for Famine”. I had never seen anything quite like it.

Who will give me four?” Two hands shot up simultaneously, which meant the bidding quickly went to five hundred.

The room had been lined with offers from every kind of business conceivable, with the invitation for you to bid on the merchandise or ski tickets or groceries or whatever. Folks wandered around putting their name on the list with the amount they were willing to pay.

“C’mon,” the woman was calling out. “This is for the Food Shelf!” The bidding was up to seven hundred.

I have never seen so many people gathered in one place, laughing this hard, encouraging each other, goading one another, and giving so much money away.

The bidding was over a thousand now.

“This is a very different crowd from what I’m seeing at political rallies on TV,” I thought to myself. The challenge of hunger and all the systemic and economic injustices that cause it are not to be taken lightly. And one night a year of frivolity won’t eradicate it from our community. But no one was blaming the poor for their problems or accusing them of being lazy. No one was being forced to give … or even to be there in the first place. Just to walk through the door many people had laid out $200. The meal is good, but it is certainly not elaborate. There is a St. Patrick’s theme to it, but Irish green isn’t the green folks are thinking about at this event.

Who will give me twelve hundred?”

Just what does it take for us to realize how blessed so many of us are and then inspire this kind of laughter and joy and generosity? I’m not so well connected to know who my community’s wealthy folk are; but my sense of it is that there are plenty who attend this event with co-workers, small business people who buy a table. There are some banks involved; but plenty of folks in attendance are in jeans and sweaters. This is not a “black tie” affair.

Everyone is sober. The night ends early. Someone goes home having won $7,500, or, in the case of last week’s event, the five folks still in the running decided to end the drawing and split the money. They took home $1,500 each. That was a fraction of what some people had spent that evening.

What kind of organization is this that gets people out in the middle of winter, invites them to have a good time and give money like there is no tomorrow, all the while laughing and enjoying themselves?” That’s what I find myself thinking every year that I have attended. I think that woman who auctioned off her chance at winning the prize ended up raising an extra $1,300  or so for the cause.

This is a side of America that doesn’t get enough publicity. This is a side of American life that is nothing short of awesome.

Mark Demers

Want to talk about sex, politics, spirituality? So do I. I grew up in a religious home in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Our country was reeling from assassinations and the devastation of the Viet Nam War. Looking for something beautiful, I got a degree in music, married the love of my life and had children. Looking for God, I then went to seminary. Looking for something that might transform the world, I became a local church pastor. Now, I’m always looking for people who want to talk about important things. I cherish conversations with emerging leaders, people who are antsy to try an idea they believe would change the world for the better. I’d would love to hear from you.