2018-02-22 / Front Page

Rotarians forced to call it quits on longtime auction

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

SACO/BIDDEFORD – For the first time in 28 years, the Saco Bay and Biddeford Saco Rotary Clubs will not hold their annual TV auction.

The group posted on Facebook and its website at the beginning of the month to let community members know that the auction would not take place. Saco Bay Rotary Club President Tony LeBlanc said the auction was held with the help of Time Warner staff who operated equipment and helped produce the live show. However, once Spectrum bought Time Warner, LeBlanc said that outside help would no longer be available and it wouldn’t be possible to hold the auction.

“We had a number of people from Time Warner at the time helping us through a number of those years,” he said. “All the expertise, camera men and women, production truck, it looked good because of them. None of us do that for a living. Rotarians couldn’t do it without them. We thought of trying to still do the TV auction other ways. Logistically, starting from scratch and without the support of the people that made it the television production you know, it probably wouldn’t have been the same or as good. We decided to just move on to something else and hopefully we can still figure something out that will help us.”

Heidi Vandenbrouck, senior communications manager for Charter New England, which offers services under the name Spectrum, wrote in an email that in May 2017, Spectrum stopped operations of its local community channel, the one that Saco Bay and Biddeford Saco Rotary Clubs used to broadcast the annual auction.

LeBlanc said members of both clubs are working to find fundraising alternatives for the future. According to the club’s website, the auction raised about $50,000 last year. LeBlanc said that money has been used for scholarships and charitable donations for the past three decades, as well as service projects in the community such as Rotary Park in Biddeford, the boardwalk at Saco Heath Preserve and the gazebo at Memorial Park in Old Orchard Beach.

“A gentleman in my club always says, ‘If you want something done, ask a Rotarian,’” LeBlanc said. “That’s where we’re at now. Everybody is sad that this is done. People in the community looked forward to it. I got my two hours of fame every year being one of the emcees. People in the public saw us on TV. That was kind of a neat reason for doing it. But it wasn’t just self-serving for us to get to be on TV. During that production we showed videos of different projects we’ve done, what it is to be a Rotarian and educating the public. It was a chance for us to send a message out there about what we are, what we do and what our values are.”

Jackson Brown, president of the Biddeford Saco Rotary Club, said apart from the funds raised he will miss collaborating with the other Rotary Club and interacting with local people.

“We had fun with it,” he said. “People in the community really enjoyed watching the auction. My parents and other people were glued to the TV that day for good deals. People are going to miss that for sure.”

Club members considered hosting the auction at Biddeford Public Access, but Brown said it wouldn’t have worked for multiple reasons.

“Biddeford Public Access does not reach all the other towns surrounding,” he said. “We would really be missing out on the big targets of Arundel, Dayton and other surrounding towns that watch it as well. On top of that, the space is too small. We could probably manage if we had to but losing the people was the biggest issue. An idea thrown around in the other club was doing a live auction online with eBay. We might do something like that but we haven’t confirmed it yet. We haven’t explored it too much.”

LeBlanc said that his club has held two murder mystery dinners in the past two years and will continue to do so because of its popularity. While the previous dinners were limited to 40 people, each one sold out so LeBlanc hopes to have a new venue in spring that can double the capacity.

“It’s a lot of fun,” LeBlanc said. “None of us are actors by trade but we had a blast with it. Usually it’s themed. The last one was supposed to be set in a biker bar. The previous was one mafia themed. One Rotarian was the Don and I was his bodyguard. It turned out to be a great little fundraiser as well. What’s nice is people are coming to have a great night out, a good meal, laugh and know that the money they’re spending is also going to be turned around and used for good in the community.”

LeBlanc said he and fellow Rotarians will continue exploring fundraising options and appreciate the support from local businesses and people.

“We thank them for all their support over the years,” LeBlanc said. “Without them, the auction wouldn’t have been successful. From businesses that sponsored things, donated items, to people that purchased items in the community, that’s the reason why it was successful. We’ll be looking to you to support some other endeavor that should be just as enjoyable or beneficial to you in the future.”

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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