A pound and yard: Masonic group’s quirky auction aids toy fund

  • Robert McKay, of Shutesbury, auctions off a gift bag-wrapped prize at the "Pound and Yard" auction put on by a local chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star. The proceeds for the group's auction go to the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund. Submitted photo

  • Robert McKay, of Shutesbury, auctions off a gift bag-wrapped prize at the "Pound and Yard" auction put on by a local chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star. The proceeds for the group's auction go to the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund. Submitted photo

  • Gift bags with prizes for the "Pound and Yard" auction put on by a local chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star. The proceeds for the group's auction go to the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund. Submitted photo

Staff Writer
Published: 12/12/2018 8:00:00 PM

WILLIAMSBURG — Once a year, in the basement of Grange Hall, an unusual and hilarious tradition unfolds as people raise money for a good cause.

For the past decade, members of a local chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star — a Masonic group open to men and women — gather late in the year for a “Pound and Yard” auction. Participants bring in an item that weighs a pound or measures a yard in length, and the bidding begins. Or, if they’re being witty, members will bring something that pounds, like a hammer, or something for the yard.

The catch is that members have no idea what they’re actually bidding on. All of the prizes are wrapped in gift bags, their inner contents unknown to anyone but the person who brought it.

“You never know if you bid $9 on a shiny bag that may contain a pound of spaghetti that can be bought for $1 in the grocery store,” said Barbara Miller, the Bethlehem Chapter No. 24 treasurer.

The group gives the proceeds of the fundraiser to the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund. Named after a former business manager at the Gazette, the Toy Fund began in 1933 to help families in need during the Depression.

This year, the Bethlehem Chapter No. 24 of the Order of the Eastern Star raised $250 for the Toy Fund — and with lots of laughs to go around, Miller told the Gazette.

“We’ve had people put hammers into bags. We’ve had the old-fashioned tri-fold yard sticks. We’ve had yard decorations,” Miller recalled of prizes from years past. Once, somebody taped a full yard of pennies together. The next year, it was re-gifted to someone else.

Since participants can’t see what’s in the gift bag, often bidding centers around what the gift bag itself looks like, Miller said. One year, someone brought their gift in a bag from a clothing store — Miller thinks it might have been Abercrombie & Fitch — that featured a good-looking man on the bag.

“That bidding went wild,” she said with a laugh. “They didn’t care what’s inside, we just wanted the bag.”

Miller said that one member likes to bid on the shiniest bag, so members began trying to buy extra-shiny bags for him.

“We just have a lot of fun,” Miller said.

When asked whether somebody ever received a prize that they were excited to take home, Miller laughed.

“I do know people have gotten food items — maybe a jar of pickles — and they’ll say, ‘Oh, I was just thinking I need to get pickles,’” she said.

Today, the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund distributes vouchers worth $40 to families for each child from age 1 to 14. Eligible families must live in any Hampshire County community except Ware, or in the southern Franklin County towns of Deerfield, Sunderland, Whately, Shutesbury and Leverett.

Berkshire Children & Families at 220 Russell St. in Hadley verifies families’ eligibility and the Gazette covers costs associated with the drive, freeing all donations to fund the vouchers.

The following stores are participating this year: A2Z Science and Learning Store, 57 King St., Northampton; Deals & Steals, 1 Pearl St., Northampton; Faces, 175 Main St. Northampton; JCPenney, 341 Russell St., Hadley (store only); The ToyBox, 201 N. Pleasant St., Amherst; Target, 367 Russell St. Hadley (store only); Sam’s Outdoor Outfitters, 227 Russell St., Hadley; Odyssey Bookshop, 9 College St., Village Commons, South Hadley; Wilson’s Dept. Store, 258 Main St., Greenfield; World Eye Bookshop/Magical Child, 134 Main St., Greenfield.

Donations to the Toy Fund may be dropped off at or mailed to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, P.O. Box 299, Northampton, MA, 01061, or made through Gazettenet at www.gazettenet.com.

Checks should be made payable to the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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