Charity Begins At Home

Charity Begins At Home

Written by Tess Read

Photos by Tess Read and Nick Turner on Unsplash

Charity begins at home they say. I never used to really understand what that meant, unless it meant my clothes look like they come from a charity shop… Of course many of them do, but to be fair those are the more pristine looking articles. It’s a sad fact that every time I have a clear out I find at least two favourite cardigans which are so tattered that no self respecting charity shop would take them. A happy moment, as it justifies me keeping the rags and pressing them into several more years of active service which neither the cardigans, nor innocent bystanders who have to look at the things, wish to see.

Of course, what the phrase actually means is that with charitable endeavours we need to start looking after those close to us emotionally and physically first. No one could argue with that in these times of food banks and homelessness, and one of the best introductions to charitable fundraising is by schoolchildren for their own school. Start ‘em young I say!

As a former head of the PTA for my daughters’ school, I have organised my fair share of charity fundraisers. Whether it was summer fairs, Christmas fairs, cake sales, raffles, discos, auctions, quiz nights, music nights –  you name it, we organised it and tried to make money for the school from it. Yes I was one of those school mums you love to hate – always going round selling raffle tickets, do-gooding, smiling at newcomers and generally making everyone else feel guilty for not doing more. Striking fear into the heart of the most generous parent with the latest “Can I interest you in the Key Stage Two Ironic Bingo Night next week? It’s going to be just like bingo, but even more fun! And there will be home made Elderflower cordial on sale too made from hand-foraged Elderflower. All proceeds go to the school, how many tickets would you like to buy?”.

Dragging an unwilling parental public along to these events was always the challenge, with one notable exception, the school Bake Off event judged by the owner of Exeter’s own erstwhile divine cafe Cakeadoodledo. There were only just enough rosettes to go round for all the entrants as participation went through the roof. We had several categories – Bake with an Adult, Solo Baking, Baking with a Friend, but we had to introduce an additional Adult Bake category for those parents who wanted to show off their prowess without their darling little ones stuffing their fingers into the icing and ruining the pinnacle of the cake Eiffel Tower. Well, I say parents, I am not sure quite how many Dads baked, but I think the answer is roughly speaking less than one. For the theme ‘A Taste of History’ (my idea –  I thank you!), we had entire Anderson shelters complete with children running inside clutching teddies, a Loch Ness monster, fossils, a beautifully crafted Penny Black, entire Pirate Ships, the Globe Theatre (mine and daughter’s – we didn’t win), Viking helmets and so on and very much so forth. The event raised quite a lot of money, as well as feeding quite a lot of people quite a lot of cake.

A cake made to look like the Globe Theatre.

It also had terrific entertainment value, particularly hearing the tales of disastrous cakey mishaps, for example, “Well, it was meant to be Exeter Cathedral and the Exe but when the tower fell down for the second time I turned it into a seaside scene of the cliff fall at Sidmouth.” My personal favourite was a master stroke invented by a ten-year-old child whose woodland scene, complete with Robin Hood and some Merry Men, was sadly crushed during the journey to school. He re-branded it ‘The Destruction of the Rainforest’ and won first prize!

This was my second favourite recent school fundraiser, beaten only by an entirely children-led event organised by four nine-year-old girls. They decided to have a yard sale but, rather than using any of their own yards, they thought a much better location would be Exeter’s Cathedral Green. They set up a stall when no one was looking on a strip of the low wall around the Green which becomes so crowded with picnic-ers on every even mildly sunny day. Their hope was that because the sale was entirely for charity, this would prevent any local trading authority bods coming down too harshly on their complete lack of a trading license. Also they were quick runners.

But the best charity fundraising ever, was ‘proper old school’. As a child of the 1970s I grew up in a neighbourhood of secret lemonade drinkers, and we went round collecting their bottles of R Whites for the 2p return riches. You might think that with charity beginning at home we could get to keep it, but our school was too smart for this and had us collecting the monies and donating to school, competing for who could collect the most. And we didn’t stop at bottles. This was in the days before kerbside paper recycling collecting and so we were the newspaper elves, collecting the papers which were then put in the weighing van and we were paid pennies for pounds of weight.

But, one day a happy accident meant our school donation really added up to something. The van went on the hoist as usual but it wasn’t as usual. One of our friends’ mums was scrabbling around for something in the back of the van when it was swung onto the weighing pad. And she was a rather large lady. She practically funded a new wing for the school single-handedly. Well, it was both her hands. And the rest of her thrown in too. But even so. Of course it couldn’t happen today –  inadvertently hoisting a grown woman into the air is just not allowed. Health and safety gone mad, I say.

Yes, charity begins at home, and I don’t just mean that our furnishings look like they come from a charity shop. Although …

Tess Read is an Exeter based author and runs the acappella group Tess & the d’Urbervilles. Keep up with Tess on her website, or follow her on Twitter @tessread and @tessdurbs

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