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Sunday Brunch | Social Sunday

Where the Auction Is

March 29, 1998|MARNELL JAMESON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Something about being all dressed up at a fancy dinner with a glass of bubbly in hand just makes you want to drop a wad of dough. Charitable organizations know this. So every year, often about now, they gear up for the annual fund-raiser. This grand affair frequently includes a silent auction, where spending and socializing go together like a black tie and cummerbund. The well-meaning and well-heeled get caught up in the spirit, then dash off checks faster than you can say "deductible."

With those charitable feelings afloat, guests one-up one another on bid sheets that may win them a vacation getaway, tickets to a sporting event, celebrity memorabilia, opportunities of a lifetime, pamper baskets and handmade quilts.

"What moves is extravagance of any kind," says auction grande dame Sarah Piehl, who after 20 years of coordinating auctions for such venerable groups as the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, University Synagogue in Brentwood and the Village School in Pacific Palisades, figures she's raised several million dollars. "The staples of any auction are the trips and restaurants. That's a phenomenon of L.A. People pay near value and figure they'll enjoy themselves and write it off."

Brushes with fame are other hot sellers. Recently, at various fund-raisers throughout Los Angeles, a "Seinfeld" walk-on brought $1,200, a walk-on for NBC's "Frasier" drew $2,200, and scrubs worn on "ER" and signed by the cast netted $900. "Baywatch" hunk David Hasselhoff's swim trunks (aptly stuffed for display purposes) fetched more than $500 and a leather jacket Sylvester Stallone sported in a film drew $2,000.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday April 5, 1998 Home Edition Life & Style Part E Page 3 View Desk 2 inches; 38 words Type of Material: Correction
Fund-Raising Auctions--Two figures were incorrect in Social Sunday in the March 29 edition. Parents at Buckley School donated $4,000 for pupils to spend the day with a teacher. Beanie Babies to be auctioned for children's charities sell for up to $2,000 on the Internet.

Madonna's tour bustier got a mere $400.

"The function's crowd was too old for it," said Piehl, who says audience is everything. For example, at one exclusive Westside school where many celebrities send their kids, she said, "Hollywood never sells, no matter who signed it."

Access also has a price. Kathy Tavoularis, who manages silent auctions for the Republican Party of Orange County, says lunches with elected officials are especially popular. And for those who want to chat and catch waves, Huntington Beach Congressman Dana Rohrabacher donates a surfing lesson, which last year sold for $500.

Sentiment also sells. At the Buckley School, in Sherman Oaks, classes in the lower school often make a quilt to auction at the annual school fair, says volunteer auction Chairwoman Katie Lilliston, who's seen these easily sell in the four digits. Two years ago, a former auction coordinator recalls, two people got into a bidding war over one quilt. Usually a case such as this goes to a final sealed bid, but these two chose to decide it on the tennis court.

Besides kids' handicrafts, other school fare that sells well are a day as principal or time outside of school with a favorite teacher, says Lilliston, who recalls one parent who paid $44,000 for six students to spend a day with a teacher.

Perhaps the hottest charity auction items this year are Beanie Babies, with the Princess Diana Beanie Baby promising profits this spring. This purple creature is not a likeness of the Princess, but of her allegedly beloved childhood bear. Talis Smith, of Los Angeles, got a store in Pacific Palisades to donate two; one for the Bel Air Presbyterian PreSchool, where her children attend and where she co-chaired this year's silent auction, and the other for the Children's Bureau of Southern California, where she's an auxiliary member. "I've seen these selling on the Internet for $42,000," she says.

Lilliston bought a basket of 91 Beanie Babies (17 retired and one Princess Di) at an auction to support another cause and is re-donating the lot to Buckley's auction. She paid $5,000 for the batch and plans to place the opening bid at $500, though she might sell the Princess Beanie separately. "If the school even gets $2,500, that would be grand."

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Auctions are hot in private school fund-raising, as many parents find out. Smith and Lilliston, like others active in schools, know they're not only expected to pay to attend the event and bid in the auction, but also to contribute auction items. (One private school, whose officials requested not to be named, actually requires families upon enrollment of a child to sign a contract obligating them to "donate, solicit or underwrite" an item or service for the school's auctions.)

A request for an auction contribution often stymies even the most charitable individual. So if your French chateau doesn't happen to be available in the coming year and you don't think people would pay much for your swimwear, here are a few ideas experts say are worth soliciting.

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