State assistance declining? Work harder

The likely continuing decline of state assistance for charitable organizations must be worrisome to all nonprofits.

But at the Child & Family Agency of Southeastern Connecticut, according to CEO Thomas P. Gullotta, less funding from the state and umbrella organizations like the United Way is a call to arms for a group that has long depended on the generosity of its volunteers.

"The Child and Family Agency has a phenomenal history of involvement," Gullotta said. "The organization is built on volunteerism."

And so the current climate of declining funding assistance from the state and charitable organizations rocked by the recession has beckoned the agency's volunteers, he said.

"You can cry about it or you can do something about it," Gullotta told me Tuesday as he was organizing cartons of books for tonight's Child & Family bimonthly fundraising book auction.

The book auctions, in their fourth year, are one of a number of ways the agency helps backfill its $10 million annual budget. It also runs a huge annual tag sale, a charity bookstore on Poquonnock Road in Groton and regional fundraisers like an interior designer showhouse.

The book auctions are a series of fundraisers to which Gullotta personally contributes a lot of volunteer time, making many weekend and weeknight visits to book consignors, collectors or people managing estates of collectors, looking for wholesale auction material.

He steered the agency into the auction endeavor because of personal connections to a wholesale bookseller in Northampton, Mass., who has since helped Child & Family find its way through the endeavor.

Gullotta said the gross sales of the auctions have been climbing steadily, even doubling from one year to the next, and that events now gross anywhere from $3,500 to $12,000.

The proceeds are divided in shares, with 75 percent going to the book consignors and 25 percent going to the agency. The labor, including the people who sort the books, the runners that take bids and the auctioneers, all comes from volunteers donating their time.

One curious aspect to the fundraising is that Child & Family runs the book auctions as if they are a separate business. They pay out money to consignors and to cover expenses, and then pay taxes on the profits.

The after-tax proceeds then go directly to the nonprofit agency.

The agency's book auctions, promoted in trade magazines around New England, are becoming well known and seem to be inspiring new dealers to set up shop along the Connecticut shoreline, Gullotta said.

The auctions sell about 5,000 books a night, anywhere from rare books to groupings of fiction. Tonight they will be selling off a collection of signed mystery books from a collector, a first edition of "Gray's Anatomy," some other rare books and many others in all kinds of categories.

The sales are organized as pick auctions. The doors to the gymnasium at the agency's B.P. Learned Mission on Shaw Street in New London open at 2:30 p.m. Buyers are then allowed to assemble auction lots, groups of books in one category, fiction for instance.

When the bidding starts, each lot has a minimum bid of $10. Even if you arrive late, you can observe the already assembled lots of books and decide what to bid on.

The bidding starts at 6 p.m. and is usually over by 8:30.

One of the loss leaders is the food, $1 for two slices of pizza and a soda.

If you're a book lover, head on over.

It's a good way to cover the recession-era budget gap and help an agency that deals with the prevention of child abuse, the treatment of family violence, teen pregnancy, children's health care, parent education and children's mental health.

You don't even have to volunteer. Just buy some books.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


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