My family’s church has had a picnic to raise money for many years. The only years it didn’t was during the pandemic. My parents have talked for a while about helping out at the picnic. Though they had an interest, I didn’t.
The idea of working in the kitchen where they needed the most help wasn’t appealing. I have autism and don’t like being in the social-sphere. I also don’t like touching ingredients and condiments that I find disgusting and gross, or even dishware that contains them.
I do remember of my family going to the picnic back in 1992. We went with one of my dad’s customers and his family. In 1992, the church had a stand selling large helium balloons. I can still remember an interesting white balloon clearly. Though it was a neutral color, it had splotches of varying colors on it making it interesting. I loved those balloons!
When my parents discussed the possibility of working at the picnic this year, I said that I was only interested if I could run the balloon stand. One problem, they stopped having a balloon stand years ago. I thought for a while that only Mom and Dad would be working in the kitchen there.
One day, my parents went to a picnic meeting at church and signed up to work there. It was actually coming to fruition this time! Apparently, the old helium balloon booth came up, and a couple was generously willing to donate some balloons and helium left over from their grandchild’s birthday celebration. Helium can be hard to get right now.
We would be having a helium balloon booth, and I was going to be running it. Mom also helped. Due to being on the autism spectrum and lack of coordination, I would be needing help with securing the balloons, and putting the strings on.
When Mom and I arrived at the picnic grounds to set up, we were able to park close to the area where we would be working. Though we had a number of supplies to carry, fortunately we did it all in one trip. The helium tanks though bulky, weren’t particularly heavy. Everything else was contained in Mom’s Thirty-One tote bag. We were told that we would be next to the face painting area. It made sense, since this would draw children to the area, which were our intended audience.
What actually happened when we got to our area, was it was empty. At first, we thought the face painter was coming later. I eventually discovered that they must have set up in a different location. Dad was there since 9:00 AM in the morning, helping in the kitchen, and had brought over two chairs and a table for us. We were ready to set up.
This part was tricky. We put our green table cloth on the table. This went easy. Preparing the first set of balloons would prove to be more difficult. At first Mom was trying to blow them up and tie them. It was taking a long time. We had few balloons to show for the time invested. She had me try to slip the ribbon into the knot of the balloon before tying it shut. I struggled with this. Figuring out how to keep the balloons from floating to the ceiling was a different challenge. The wind was also blowing, knocking around our first helium tank and blowing the box around we had our balloons tied to.
I came up with the idea of simply tying the balloons, and then tying on the strings. My mom and I swapped seats, and I started to inflate the balloons. The process sped up. Often, I would be done and waiting for Mom to attach the string to the balloon.
The helium tanks themselves were an issue at first. Unbeknownst to us, the first tank was soon empty, which was why it had little pressure causing the balloons to inflate slowly. We ran out of helium from that tank early on. When I switched to the full tank, the process of filling them became easy. The pressure was great. The balloons blew up fast. They floated nicely up in the air to attract customers once we attached them. We also used a few of the balloons to attract attention by tying them on nearby fence posts. We included two balloons with the animals on them.
A parishioner who stopped by, helped by making us a sign. Besides stating that we were selling balloons, the sign also had the price of $1. We had another sign that directed people away from us; a sign was hung up before we got to the grounds for meal tickets. A number of people asked us about the meal tickets which were actually sold next to us.
I had some good insight into which balloons to offer. A lot of the balloons were pastel colors, though we also had several with bears, moose, and deer. I made sure I blew up a number of these balloons since I thought they would be popular. I also did two orange balloons that I happened to have with me of my own for something different. Finally, since many of the initial balloons were blue, yellow, red, black and green, I blew up some pink and purple balloons for the girls.
Keeping the balloons from floating to the ceiling was tricky when putting the strings on. We had several go up there during the course of the day. Most were at the beginning when blowing them up, but we also lost one when taking a balloon from our cluster to give to a child.
More families started to come to the picnic. Children wanted balloons. We’d let them choose the color he or she wanted. Mom would remove the balloon from the stack of balloons clipped together, and I would hand the balloons to the kids. I would also suggest to the parents to make a slipknot for the balloons. A slipknot is an adjustable knot used for balloons that are designed to go on a child’s wrist to keep the balloon from floating away. These knots can be tightened as needed. Next year we may try to put slipknots on the strings in advance.
When looking at the balloons stuck on the ceiling, Mom wished that we would have brought a “reacher.” With the device, we could have stood on a chair and pulled the balloons down by the string. I actually tried standing on a chair and pulling down a balloon with my hands, but wasn’t quite tall enough to reach them. Mom happened to run into a tall parishioner who was a little over six feet tall who was able to generously help us retrieve all of the balloons from the ceiling.
Though we were extra careful with the balloons and encouraged slipknots to be used to keep the balloons from escaping, a few kids lost their balloons. A boy for example let go of his balloon. He came back a second time with his mother for a new one. We were going to give it to him as a replacement for free. His mother insisting on paying for another balloon.
A family with a bunch of children stopped by. All of the kids, save a girl, lined up to get a balloon. A woman around my age also stopped by with her dad. She didn’t want a balloon, but wanted to tell me she had been informed that my latest book Poo Panties and Willie’s Birthday Party, had just recently been released. She and her cousin enjoy reading them.
My dad finally took a break. He came out to our stand. It was well after noon time by this point. Mom decided that it would be good to go to lunch. I asked if the food could be brought back to our stand. The answer was yes. Mom and Dad wanted to go into the dining area to eat. I decided to do “carry out” and bring my food back to the stand. I did want to eat, but I also didn’t want to miss possible sales. The minute the person steps out, that’s when all the sales seem to start.
The dad of the lady around my age helped me do the “carry out” since I didn’t know how, and you guessed it, figuring it out would be hard for me due to autism.
One of the earliest sales I had during my lunch period involved a family who was involved with the raffle tickets. They had a little kid who wanted a balloon. They also had our basket we made! My family donated a basket for the raffle containing a copy of each of the Poo Panties books that have been published so far, as well as a plush orange striped cat, a frog, and an eagle. The animals represented Poo Panties the cat and two of his main forest friends. I asked if they had won the basket. As it turns out, they were taking the basket up to the area where the raffles were done so people could buy their tickets for it. I was hoping it would be done this way. I thought the basket with the stuffed animals was cute, and I wanted them to go to people who were really interested in the series. Since my family was new to working and donating raffle items at the picnic, we really didn’t know how the raffles were done. I received the answer.
I made many balloon sales while Mom and Dad were at lunch. Since Mom helped take the balloons out and refasten them, every time a balloon was sold, I had one of the child’s parents help with getting the balloons. They would hold onto the bunch of balloons so I could unfasten them and pull out the chosen balloon without the others flying away. I also in a couple of cases made the slipknots myself. I was very fortunate that the people who bought balloons were understanding and helped me.
Remember that family with all the kids? Well, the two girls came back. The girl who didn’t want a balloon, wanted one now. The sister who came along, helped me with the balloons. A boy also came on his own to buy a balloon. He used coins to purchase it.
When they were done with lunch, Mom came back to help again. As time went on, the balloons started to lose their helium. They had been filled early on. I also had run out of helium at this point, so I wasn’t able to refill them, or blow new balloons up. At this point we had sold a sizable number of balloons. We gathered the remaining balloons together to make them easier to get. We got creative. We started to sell two balloons for a dollar. Usually, we sold two helium balloons. If a kid wanted a balloon, we didn’t have inflated, we would sell him or her an inflated one of his or her choice, and get them an uninflated balloon of their original choice to take home with them. This also proved to be popular.
In one situation, there were two kids. The boy was first in line and bought a balloon and received the “free” second balloon. He gave the second balloon to his sister. How nice! A girl who partook in the deal wanted an uninflated balloon to go with her helium balloon. She wanted to try to blow it up.
One person with a big dog bought two balloons to tie to its collar. A great way to advertise that there were balloons at the picnic.
We continued to sell balloons until we were down to three. These balloons were not flying at all. Not wanting to take them back home, I gave them away.
A person may wonder why a kid might want a helium balloon if it isn’t flying. Some children actually got creative. They were swinging them around. It seemed like they were still having fun with them, thus making them worth selling, but not at full price. In all we sold $39 worth of balloons to the children, I bought $5 worth of balloons myself to inflate at home, and Mom put an extra dollar in to make it come out to an even $45 for the church.
I thought it was a good experience. I am interested in selling helium balloons again next year. There were a few pitfalls since we were new to the endeavor, but we learned a few ways to improve for next year. Key takeaways include bring a “reacher” in case a balloon escapes, and make sure you have plenty of helium, it goes fast. We also learned it would be a good idea to blow up balloons throughout the day, instead of all at the beginning. That way we would have flying balloons during the whole duration of the picnic. At any rate we earned money for our church, and put smiles on the faces of a lot of kids!
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