CA Curious

Holiday Shoppe… Tradition Lives On

November 8, 2017

The Holiday Shoppe… a Cary Academy tradition.  It’s been around for a very long time — 15 years to be exact.  But how much do you know about it?

I’ve been working the Holiday Shoppe since it began.  And just how did it begin?  It was actual Holiday born out of an ice storm.  Back around the turn of the century, CA was brainstorming ways it could creatively raise funds for community outreach.  The one idea that resonated was a holiday home tour.  Plans were made, a catchy name was chosen (Home for the Holidays), volunteers were enlisted, and a number of brave families graciously rolled out the welcome mats at their homes.  And then, on December 4, 2002, the ice storm moved in.  Yes, THAT ICE STORM.  One inch of freezing rain and more than 1.8 million people without power in North Carolina for more than a week.  Everything had to be cancelled, including Home for the Holidays.  Well, almost everything.  During the home tour, we had planned on having a small tent at CA to sell some holiday gift items just to see if we could raise some extra money.  So, with the tent somewhat flattened by ice, we set up shop in the Administration building lobby right after school re-opened and the first Holiday Shoppe took place.

Out of that first Shoppe, that started with a few hundred customers and just $27,000 in sales in one afternoon, has emerged an event that attracts thousands of customers and generates more than $400,000 in sales over four days.  Planning begins in January.  Vendors start calling around the same time, vying for one of the 100 coveted booths.  Cashier volunteer slots fill up within 24 hours, hotter than tickets to a U2 concert (for the younger folk, that would be Ed Sheeran).  It’s the one time a year when the Head of School trades his running shoes for an apron and a tray as he shares all sorts of yummies with our guests at the Wednesday Sip and Shoppe Preview Party.  And Sip and Shoppe?  It’s like the biggest family reunion you’ve ever been to.  If we could power the school with the hugs and smiles, we could save a good bit of money on our power bill.

It’s a hot ticket on the holiday show circuit (yes, as we’ve learned, there’s a circuit) and being invited to be a vendor is a big deal.  We receive hundreds of applications each year from both local and out-of-state vendors.  Our experienced team carefully sifts through them to pick just the right mix of new and returning vendors that will make our shoppers happy and keep them coming back for more.  One of the things we’re proud of?  Our vendors consistently rave about how we’re their favorite show and how well we treat them.   That’s Charger hospitality for you!

Physically pulling together the Holiday Shoppe is like watching an episode of Modern Marvels.  It’s one thing to do something like this in a convention center designed for just such an event.  It’s another to do it in a space that is more accustomed to basketballs and wrestling mats.  It takes the coordination of Campus Logistics, Facilities, Safety and Security, Athletics, Information Services, Advancement and Business Operations to pack away the athletic gear, lay the floor, set up the tables, run the temporary power, hook up the phone lines, backup power, cash registers and credit card machines for the cash register area, set up the PA system, and hang the festive decorations that turn the SEA gym into a shopping wonderland for four days. Being in a meeting where the booth layout takes place is like watching an engineering feat come to life.

And then there’s the human engineering feat-mobilizing, organizing and training an army of several hundred volunteers.  There are aprons to be washed, nametags to be made, cashiers to be trained, and oodles of communication to be sent.  Sign-up Genius has met its match with our event!  There are no finer volunteers in all the world than our Holiday Shoppe volunteers whether they be a current parent or grandparent, alumni parent or grandparent, student or alum.  Like I said, it’s a big reunion, one that some of our volunteers have been attending for all 15 years!

It takes a village to run an event this size.  And it takes food to run a village!  With the support of SAGE, our Dining Services vendor, and donations from some of our food vendors, our tireless hospitality team keeps the food rolling out for our volunteers and vendors all day (and night).  Yummy baked goods, spiced nuts, fresh fruit and bruschetta kebabs (my personal favorite!) — a delightful and delicious assortment of Holiday Shoppe fuel to keep everyone going.

And how do we go from giant pop-up shop on Saturday back to school gym on Monday?  With a small army of students who give up a part of their Saturday to descend upon the gym at 3:55 PM and spring into action to help break down booths and pack up stuff … lots of stuff, all in less than two hours.  One of my most vivid memories is having the tables broken down around me as we closed out the cash registers ‘til all that remained was me, a table, a cash register, and three eager Upper Schoolers patiently waiting for me to finish my work.  Sometimes, I think we should sell tickets to the spectacle that is Holiday Shoppe Breakdown.

Last, but not least, there’s the Monday after the Shoppe.  As everyone else is going back to business as usual, the Business Office kicks into high gear to settle out the Shoppe.  It takes a well-honed Excel spreadsheet, some fast money-counting fingers, and several miles of calculator tape to settle out the thousands of Holiday Shoppe transactions and get checks to our vendors by the end of that week.  And that spreadsheet?  As a nod to the past, it is still called “Home for the Holidays Sales Reconciliation 20XX” all these years later…

And at the end of it all each year, after we have taken off our aprons and soaked our feet, there is the satisfaction of knowing that strong community bonds have been nurtured and that even more funds have been raised to allow the school to continue its community outreach and scholarship efforts – $ 742,281 to date!  Thank you to all of the friends I have made over the years who have given me so many Holiday Shoppe memories to treasure.

Does this sound like fun?  Interested in joining our band of merrymakers as we celebrate another year of the best holiday shopping in Triangle? It’s not too late.

Written by Debby Reichel, Chief Financial Officer

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Funding the Gap

October 26, 2017

by Jeanne Howard, CA Fund Co-Chair

What the heck is the Cary Academy Fund anyway?   Maybe you’ve directly asked this question or maybe you’ve wondered but never really asked.  Kevin and I are in our third year as parents at Cary Academy and our second as Co-Chairs of the CA Fund’s annual drive.  Allow us to give everyone a “sneak peak” at the great machine behind our Cary Academy Fund.

PTAA helped support eclipse glasses (top picture), and the CA Fund supports the PTAA. Click for link to video.

First of all, almost every independent school has an annual fund that serves as their primary source of funding outside of tuition.  The annual drive allows the school to cultivate relationships and get to know you better!  An annual fund also allows an institution to keep tuition steady and not overburden families.  They do this by focusing on participation, as opposed to the size of the gift.   It’s important for our community to participate in giving together, but at a level that is appropriate to each family’s situation.

Annual funds were created to fund the “gap” between tuition and the actual cost to educate each student.  Instead of pouring more of your hard-earmed money into tuition, an annual fund gift is also tax deductible.  This year’s “gap” per student is about $4656.  Just imagine… without this fund, tuition would have to be increased close to $5000 per student!  By implementing an annual fund drive, schools are able to cultivate deeper relationships and donors can more evenly bear increasing costs while keeping tuition steady.  It’s a beautiful sequence when it works and the community engages.

And boy have you responded!  The CA Fund has grown over 200% in the last five years, while tuition has seen only minimal increase.  That strength is allowing our Board of Directors to approve big, bold initiatives and accelerate projects such as our new science addition to the SEA coming in the fall of 2018!  How exciting to know that the completion of the building will “unlock” so many other projects for our campus…things like new humanities classrooms, classroom remodels, dining hall renovations, Middle School renovations and so much more.   You see…..ANYTHING is possible with your help!

Relationships can either grow or wither – depending on our actions.    The goal of the good folks in Development is to build and deepen relationships with their clients….the parents of CA.  It’s really no different than a private or public company, CA offers a product and we buy their product.   Along the way, they ask us for feedback in order to continually improve the quality of the “product”.  We seek the best education possible and they strive to exceed our expectations.   In turn, we develop a sense of pride and loyalty for our school and giving back, in some ways, comes natural.

The annual drive of the Cary Academy Fund is our way, each year, of coming together behind the scenes to say, “ Yes!  We will participate!  We believe in the vision!  We want to help!”.  Don’t be left behind this year, pledge early and lets FUND THE GAP together!

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