BAR HARBOR — Friends of Acadia’s annual benefit dinner and auction, which is always the largest and most successful fundraising event on Mount Desert Island, will not be held under enormous tents on the lawn at the Asticou Inn in Northeast Harbor this year.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be no dinner, and the auction will be conducted virtually Aug. 8.
The annual benefit raises money for FOA grants and projects in support of Acadia National Park. For many year-round and summer residents, it is THE social and fundraising event of the season.
In “normal” years, the sit-down dinner is preceded by a cocktail hour and silent auction and followed by a live auction and “paddle raise” bidding, which benefits a specific Acadia project. Then there is live music and dancing.
This was to be FOA’s 31st annual in-person benefit, which over the years has raised more than $15 million.
Last year, the paddle raise alone brought in about $300,000 for the restoration of Acadia’s historic carriage road bridges. The paddle raise typically is conducted at the end of the live auction. As the auctioneer calls out dollar figures, guests raise their bidding paddles to indicate they pledge to give that amount.
FOA President and CEO David MacDonald said it has not yet been decided what Acadia project the paddle raise will fund this year.
“We try to work with the park to determine what is timely and a priority for them, and also what will be of interest to our donors to rally around,” he said.
Individuals and businesses donate items for the live and silent auctions, everything from jewelry and artwork to boats and European vacations.
“We are well aware that this is a challenging time to be asking for auction items,” MacDonald said. “So, we expect to have far fewer items this year. We are still talking through what will be feasible and what will engage the most participation by our membership and supporters.”
He said a “silver lining” to the switch to a virtual event is that people who want to take part will not have to buy tickets, and the usual limit of 500 guests will not apply.
“My hope is that it will be a more inclusive event and more people from throughout the FOA membership and wherever they might be geographically might be able to participate this year,” he said. “That has not necessarily been the case in the past, when we sell out and have to turn people away.”
FOA also won’t have the huge expenses of food, drinks, servers and equipment rentals.
“But it’s a mixed blessing,” MacDonald said. “In a time of a lot of economic uncertainty, we do feel some relief at not having those expenditures.”
“But the downside is that a lot of local businesses are a part of this, the Asticou being number one; this is a very big event for them. We are cognizant that this will have ripple effects for others.”