Rotary auction includes business lifeline

MIDDLEBURY — For the past 11 years, Middlebury-area businesses have generously donated items to the Middlebury Rotary Club’s annual online auction, the proceeds from which aid numerous nonprofit causes ranging from literacy to health care.
But this year, some businesses that are taking a financial beating from COVID-19 will be among those getting a boost from the auction, which began March 27 and will end on April 5. Check out the more than 200 items up for bids online.
Middlebury Rotarians and online auction coordinators Geoff and Maureen Conrad confirmed the Rotary Club purchased $3,000 in gift certificates from area businesses to include in the auction. The club has historically requested donation of those certificates, but that didn’t seem right this year.
“We decided three or four days ago, as a group, that we would go out and buy gift certificates from local businesses we feel have struggled here — like the restaurants and the hotels,” he said, alluding to enterprises that have either shut down completely, or have shifted to limited operations like curbside food services or lodging for the homeless.
“It’s a small gesture,” he said of the Rotary’s certificate purchases, “but I think the merchants we have talked to were appreciative.”
Featured auction items this year include a $100 gift card to Agway, a $200 gift certificate to the Middlebury Inn, a $250 gift certificate from Woodware, a 26-inch Greenworks cordless hedge trimmer from Taylor Rental, two passes to the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival, $400 toward design service time from Vermont Integrated Architecture, and bunches of Middlebury Money.
Conrad placed the combined value of all items in this year’s auction at around $15,000. Since folks are looking for bargains, the auction yield will be somewhat less — probably around $10,000 to $11,000, according to Conrad.
Donated items are mostly from local merchants, who are giving even as they are experiencing financial pain right now.
“You would expect that donations would be down this year because of the funk we’re all in, but I don’t believe that’s been the case,” Conrad said.
Middlebury Rotary Club works hard to raise more than $50,000 each year to give to charities that help the elderly, children, health care initiatives, low-income families and battered women. They raise that money through:
• Annual sponsorships through businesses and individuals.
• The online auction.
• A golf tourney hosted by Middlebury College’s Ralph Myhre Golf Course.
• A flag project. On each of the five major patriotic holidays (including Memorial Day, Veterans Day and July 4) the Rotary displays as many as 350 American flags throughout town, charging the hosts $50 each. This nets the Rotary upwards of $15,000 each year to give to charities.
There are no shortage of nonprofits wanting a piece of the Rotary aid. Each year, the club receives more requests than dollars to go around. And right now the need is particularly acute, according to Conrad, who confirmed an unprecedented 40-plus grant applications this year. Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects, Elderly Services, John Graham Housing & Services and Addison County Home Health & Hospice (ACHH&H) are among those requesting funds. And it should be noted that contrary to a recent radio broadcast in our area, ACHH&H remains open for business and continues to provide vital health care services to homebound clients.
Middlebury Rotary’s grants have ranged between $100 and $12,000. Generally, grants are in the $3,000 to $5,000 range, according to Conrad, who added the club this year will also be giving to COVID-19 relief efforts. Rotary’s Charitable Assessment Committee will review grant requests and how funds are apportioned. Those grants are handed out each year at Middlebury Rotary’s annual gala dinner. That’s an event usually held in June, though it remains to be seen whether the statewide and national “social distancing” rules will be lifted by then.
The Rotary Club stopped meeting two weeks ago to honor quarantining rules. Club meetings are currently being help through Zoom and other social media platforms.
Who knows. Perhaps having people isolated and on their computers and smartphones could result in record bidding for this year’s Rotary online auction.
“I was speaking to a club member who ran this (auction) for many years, and he said he always wished for a blizzard at the time of the auction to keep everybody at home,” Conrad joked.
“But we didn’t wish for this.”
John Flowers is at [email protected].

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