Some thoughtful students in our department came to us and suggested that the faculty could host a bake sale. Apparently, they’d seen students having to go without textbooks for class, some waiting for tuition and book vouchers to come in and some having to choose between purchasing books and paying rent. On the less needy side, there were graduate students who wanted to attend conferences but could not afford the increasingly exorbitant registration fees. These are the realities of teaching at a commuter university in the city. No fancy buildings named after founding millionaires of the university. No classical columns supporting a student union housing faux Queen Anne furniture resting on massive Persian rugs. And, sometimes, no books. But, on the flipside, a tremendously rewarding teaching experience.
Student groups host lots of bake sales, but most faculty members are consumers rather than the suppliers in these transactions. On Monday, we brought in our baked items to our “Village Square”—a strip of hallway next to our only real coffee stand—and hawked our goods to passing students, faculty, staff, and administrators. And these passersby were tremendously generous for the large part. We brought in more than $600 in 6 hours of the bake sale, our optimistic projected schedule of 10am-6pm having to be cut short because we literally ran out of food to sell. Even the crumbs of burnt and dried out cookies were somehow taken.
My baking vanity did not suffer any deflation since my two batches of cookies—Dark Chocolate Walnut Chunk (top of the post) and M&M, Oatmeal, Almond Chocolate Chunk Monster cookies (below)—disappeared quickly. One student claimed that the two monster cookies she ate (she purchased one and then came back for another a few minutes later) were hands-down the best cookies she’d had. I am not going to discount the possibility that this student, facing a Shakespeare exam the next day, thought it might not hurt to stroke the ego of her professor… You judge.
The big tip of the day: Do not price your items.
Those same students who asked us to host the bake sale gave their neophyte fundraisers a piece of advice that came in quite handy. We were told not to price our items and instead operate on a donations basis. The thinking goes this way: If we price a cookie at 50 cents and a brownie at $1, then most people would just pay the price listed. But if we ask for a “donation,” many are willing to give extra just to help out (or feel too chintzy giving less than a dollar per item). A colleague from the History Department pointed to 3 small cookies remaining on a plate, added a tiny piece of brownie, and gave us $10. A student who didn’t appear particularly flush with cash unobtrusively dropped a ten-dollar bill in the donation jar even though she only took two cookies. Apparently the idea that English faculty members baked over the weekend and early morning for their students’ books was a major selling point.
Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical about the no-pricing strategy when the first half-hour I was on the scene brought two individuals who each gave a 25 cent donation and proceeded to pile plates full of food. Perhaps we need to place a limit on the number of items taken per donation? But, of course, I would be happy if I thought that they were very hungry and needed some food. One student longingly eyed a piece of cream-cheese brownie but said that he didn’t have any money and started walking away. The chair of our department called him back and said, “Dude, just take the brownie.” The student walked away with a brownie in his hand and a smile on his face--which had us smiling the rest of the bake sale.