Regrettably if unsurprisingly, COVID-19 forced many robust Friends fundraisers to go dormant. Many have not yet fully regained their momentum, with attendance and revenue trailing pre-pandemic norms. Granted, exceptions exist. For a case in point, consider Friends of the Cook Public Library’s annual Holiday Basket Fundraiser.

Cook is a town of 500 situated halfway between Duluth and the Canadian border. Traditional wisdom would hold that a town this small and isolated should have a difficult time pulling off a silent auction. As most know, those fundraisers ordinarily rely on the largesse of the local business community, and Cook’s is modest in size.

In 2018, three Friends of the Library explored a workaround. Instead of soliciting themed baskets from area businesses, they barnstormed as many St. Louis County estate sales as they could find. This ground team gathered dozens of home décor items for pennies on the dollar. Most acquisitions fit within a broad Christmas / wintertime theme.  

Next came the fun part. Volunteers sorted their finds – festive ornaments, dinner plates, candles, stuffed animals, and kitchen utensils – into attractive baskets perfect for a silent auction. The Friends held their first Holiday Basket Fundraiser on site at the library over several weeks in 2018.

According to group president Kristi Sopoci, the hope that first year was to do more than raise a little money. “Our library benefits from seasonal visitors to our community and surrounding lakes. However, once cabins close up for the year, Cook enters a quiet season. Our intention here was to draw year-round residents to the library with a welcoming winter event geared towards them specifically.”

The Friends accomplished both objectives. They credit this event’s profitability in large part to the integration of a raffle component. Running alongside the silent auction and featuring even more enticing, specially curated gift baskets, the raffle drew hundreds of dollars – easily offsetting the $30 gambling permit required by the City of Cook to host a game of chance.

In point of fact, that $30 expense has been the host organization’s only monetary outlay in support of the now-annual Holiday Basket Fundraiser. That’s because of generous in-kind donations. “It requires significant volunteer hours to collect for, prepare and store our baskets; to re-arrange library furnishings to accommodate these temporary displays; and then contact winners and distribute baskets after the event winds down,” Sopoci shared.  

Proceeds allow Cook Public Library to afford performance and movie license fees all year long, to purchase paper and ink for the copiers, and to defray the monthly bills for the library’s WiFi hotspot collection.

COVID-19 required The Friends to hit the pause button on their marquee fundraiser, but it bounced back admirably in 2022 (rebranded as ‘Welcome Back to our Holiday Basket Fundraiser’). Between mid-November and mid-December, 525 visitors dropped by the auction and raffle displays and The Friends raised $1,167 – a significant amount for small but mighty Cook!

Organizers are even more optimistic for 2023. Last time around, they had intended for the last day of the auction to coincide with the library’s Volunteer Appreciation Tea. Sopoci estimates that this special event would have drawn 50 additional browsers before bidding closed. Unfortunately, an ill-timed winter storm forced cancellation of the tea program, making for a more subdued final day of the fundraiser.

Noted Sopoci: “Needless to say, we plan to have a chat with Mother Nature next year.”  

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