Bidding for Pies and Serving Hope

 By Alicia Dziak

The holidays are fast approaching and it’s time for a little Irish cheer. Don’t miss the annual Irish Christmas celebration on Friday, Dec. 5, which will be held at the Gin Mill.

“It’s held at a time of year where people want to help and make a difference,” said Bob McCarthy, who organizes the fundraiser.

McCarthy, who said he “loves being Irish,” lights up when he talks about the mystique and history of Ireland.

“(Irish Christmas) is a night of Irish magic. I don’t know how the magic gets there, but it just does. That’s the beauty of it,” he said with a smile.

For 10 years, the Irish Christmas fundraiser has become an event to remember, and one that locals and weekenders alike don’t want to miss.

The day starts with McCarthy’s wagon parked outside the Gin Mill, starting around 7 a.m., where new toys and gifts are collected. McCarthy pointed out that donations need not be toys; they can be gifts for teens and adults, too.

Although the fundraising auction doesn’t start until 7 p.m., guests start to arrive as early as 3 p.m. to make sure they get a seat for this popular event.

“It gets earlier and earlier every year,” McCarthy pointed out.

This year, the now-famous pie auction will boast 14 pies, all displayed on beautiful Irish-themed pieces created by McCarthy. The highest bidder for each not only takes home a delicious pie, but also the wooden pie box or other display piece. For instance, one pie will be displayed on top of a wooden birdhouse, so the winner will get a pie and the birdhouse.

Winning a pie is no easy feat. With McCarthy running the auction, the bidding is high energy and quite competitive, with guests cheering each other on as they try to outdo one another. McCarthy stated that since he knows almost everyone in the room by name, it adds to the fun.

“Every year, I try to step up the event to make it more exciting,” McCarthy explained.

This year, each pie box will contain a number. At the end of the auction, one number will be selected, and the lucky pie winner who has that number will win a trip with McCarthy to Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day. The chance for winning such a fabulous trip really ups the ante!

Last year’s top pie sold for $475 and the event raised over $7,000! The money and gifts donated in the wagon go to Santa’s Workshop, a confidential program by Family Support for Ellicottville, which is an affiliate of the Rotary Foundation for Youth.

As McCarthy puts it, “If a child wakes up on Christmas morning with no gift under the tree, then there is no hope.”

He emphasized the importance of giving hope to a child in the form of gifts under the tree during the magical time of Christmas, and that it gives children the opportunity to feel good.

At Santa’s Workshop, parents can choose gifts for their children, and children can also shop for gifts for their parents and siblings.

Any surplus items are donated to other children in need, through the efforts of Cattaraugus Community Action (CCA), whose mission is to assist citizens to achieve economic, physical and emotional security.

“Since the Irish Christmas benefit is focused on the Ellicottville and Great Valley areas, we do our best to match the gifts to families in and around those communities,” said Tina Zerbian of CCA.

While the auction portion of the Irish Christmas celebration only lasts about an hour, the fun lasts well into the night. Enjoy great conversation and lots of laughter while listening to live music, including Irish tunes and Christmas songs, by 2 Guys Drinkin’ Beer, starting at 9 p.m.

Additional pies will also be available for purchase outside the Gin Mill.

“It’s a very uplifting event,” said Greg Cappelli of the Ellicottville Rotary Club. “People get a definite sense of giving back and it’s a lot of fun.”

Cappelli also noted that if people can’t attend the Dec. 5 event, but wish to make a donation, they can mail it to The Rotary Club of Ellicottville, P.O. Box 101, Ellicottville, NY 14731. A toy or gift donation can be dropped off at 47 Elizabeth St. in Ellicottville.

The spirit of the season is unmatched in Ellicottville, and Irish Christmas is a perfect opportunity to share it with friends. Head to the Gin Mill on Dec. 5 for a celebration of all things Irish, meet up with friends old and new, and give back to families in the community. Pie or not, you’ll leave with a full heart!