Holiday bazaar brings 'critical' funding for Pittsfield senior center

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PITTSFIELD - If Dec. 3 doesn't come soon, Roberta Lucia may have to find a new office.

Her space in the Pittsfield Senior Center command center is filling with raw materials of this season's big event - both here on North Street and in church halls, school gyms and public spaces around Berkshire County.

'Tis the season of the holiday bazaar.

On Tuesday, Priscilla Zuber, of Pittsfield, reached into one of the overflowing boxes in Lucia's office and pulled out a stuffed bear of her acquaintance.

It was either time for a farewell hug - or, judging by the look on her face, a dash for the door. Zuber said her children have been needling her to clear out clutter. Thanks to her generosity, the bear earned a prominent spot in one of the largest raffle boxes heading to the center's bazaar. It looked new, but wasn't.

"He's so good and he's kept me company all these years," Zuber said. "I've had several names for him."

Come Saturday, the critter may get another.

Like most holiday bazaars, the one that runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Ralph J. Froio Senior Center, at 330 North St. will light up the downtown space with holiday cheer and shoppers.

It will also raise money, through a nonprofit Friends group, that the center can use to improve on what it offers to the city's roughly 10,670 elders, about 100 of whom visit the space on a given day.

Vincent Marinaro, director of the Council on Aging, says the yearly event took a leap when it was moved from a Friday to a Saturday. He credits Lucia for gains achieved.

"She has been working very, very hard to make this happen," he said.

This year, to build her offerings, Lucia wrote to Pittsfield merchants inviting them to donate gift cards or certificates.

"I really didn't ask a lot of people," she said. "I can't believe the response that I got from the merchants; it's wonderful."

`NO PRESSURE'

Chuck Vincelette, treasurer of the Friends group, said the event netted $1,500 last year. And the gross?

"I'm only interested in what I put in the bank," he said.

"It's critical," Vincelette said of the bazaar. "It's definitely our single-most valuable source of income. This is a big deal."

No pressure?

When asked what else she must do to prepare, Lucia, the center's account clerk, looked a little shocked.

"Oh, my God," she said, then rattled off a list: finish decorating to make the center look festive, organize volunteers, continue to solicit donations, set up for the affair and print a program that will serve as a map to all three floors of offerings. Vendors pay $25 for the right to display their wares throughout the former theater space, the center's home since 1993.

Lucia was standing in front of a wall display in the center's first-floor hall. Gift baskets headed for raffles Dec. 3 lined shelves, including one bearing blossoms shaped from folder dollar bills.

The raffles, which start around 2 p.m., are Zuber's favorite.

"You're always anticipating winning big, like the money tree," she said. "People bring in all kinds of goodies. A dollar chance will get you almost a trip around the moon."

It didn't involve space travel, but Paula Farrell of West Stockbridge, a center regular, was happy with one of her past raffle prizes.

"I won once - a whole CD to relax and some moisturizer," she said, standing in a gaggle of friends in the center's lounge. She says she'd do more for the center's event, but already helps seven organizations. "Or probably I'd be volunteering for this one, too."

Lois Goddeau, 89, produces a veritable tsunami of scarves, baby blankets and mittens for the bazaar, and for other causes in the county. Goddeau estimates she has knitted thousands of pieces; she can turn out a pair of mittens a day. "The smaller they are, the more you can make."

She particularly likes churning out baby blankets. She just likes the idea of keeping children warm.

PUTTING IT TO USE

As bazaars go, Lucia is a true believer. She makes the rounds of the many offered in the region. While out at one long ago, visiting with craftspeople showing their work on these holiday tables, Lucia sensed an opportunity. "I talked to them and they said they'd like to come here."

This weekend's event will be the fourth held on a Saturday, after years of scheduling it on a weekday, which wasn't as popular with shoppers.

"It's pretty exciting. I think I have 30 vendors coming in this year," Lucia said. "It's grown a lot."

The increase in traffic meant more money raised, all of which goes to the center.

"Everything we make off this bazaar we put into the Friends account," Lucia said.

Money raised has been used to buy a TV, chairs for the lounge, bridge tables, pool cues and paid for repairs that recovered pool tables.

"It's all stuff that we would not be able to do with the city's money," Lucia said. "There's always a need for something that our budget won't cover."

One key to success, she said, is to get seniors involved. They run the raffles, auctions and tag sales.

"We use all three floors, so we have a lot of volunteers that come in on that Saturday," she said. "The secret is to get the word out so we have that flow coming in."

Marinaro, the Council on Aging director, said that while the bazaar helps the center tend to its needs, it adds value in other ways.

"We're not just about the money," he said. "It's wonderful watching it - the relationships within our building."

Reach staff writer Larry Parnass at 413-496-6214 or @larryparnass.


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