Garner Cleveland Record

Vandora Springs’ Chairs of Hope auction for Relay for Life is set for March 16

Fifth-grader Mackenzie Bates paints a chair for the Chairs of Hope project, a Relay for Life auction fundraiser, at Vandora Springs Elementary School in Garner, N.C. Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017.
Fifth-grader Mackenzie Bates paints a chair for the Chairs of Hope project, a Relay for Life auction fundraiser, at Vandora Springs Elementary School in Garner, N.C. Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. COURTESY OF JIM HUNT

Fifth-grade art club students at Vandora Springs Elementary School continue to take a stand against cancer by painting and later auctioning items people can sit on.

The students paint chairs that are auctioned as part of the annual Chairs of Hope project, a fundraiser for the art club’s team in the Garner Relay for Life. This year’s auction is set for 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 16, in the school cafeteria.

Chairs of Hope, like the annual Empty Bowl project benefiting Garner Area Ministries, is something art teacher Jim Hunt held at other schools in the past and brought with him to Vandora Springs 11 years ago.

Through the Empty Bowl project, students collect nonperishable food donations in exchange for their artwork. Chairs of Hope, Hunt has found, hits closer to home for some of his students.

“There’s a lot of kids who worked on these chairs who had family members touched by cancer,” he said. “They’ve had that difficult connection. It’s always good to give an opportunity for the kids to use their gifts and talents, no matter what the outreach is. But Garner is one of the real Relay hotbeds, so it just made sense to work with that since it’s so popular.”

The auction has become popular.

The students paint 40 or so chairs every year. Bidding on each chair starts at $25 and rises by $5 per each additional bid.

The annual fundraising goal is $3,000. But last year, Chairs of Hope raised $6,456.

“They definitely come back year after year, and we know we can always count on them to support Relay for Life,” said Garner Relay chair Jill Cottengim.

Cottengim’s daughters took part in Chairs of Hope when they were students at Vandora Springs.

“It’s a good way to raise awareness for the kids,” she said. “It’s important for the kids to learn to give back.”

Though Hunt isn’t on social media, he said Relay folks and other supporters have used those channels to grow interest in the auction, and that has made a difference.

It likely helps that the Garner Relay for Life is one of the largest Relays in the 13 counties making up the American Cancer Society’s Raleigh market.

“With any charitable event, there’s always going to be people who have heard of it, but not connected with it,” Hunt said. “So it’s good to go through as many outlets as possible to try to pull in as many people as we can that particular evening.”

For the second year, local businesses have been given the opportunity to donate $100 to paint a chair that represents either their business or follows the students’ annual theme. Those chairs will also be auctioned off, and people can make small donations to vote on the best business chair.

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