In fall, when every group's fancy seems to turn to fund-raising -- candy bar? Girl Scout cookies? wrapping paper? -- a $25-a-ticket cocktail party may seem destined to be lost in the shuffle of raffle tickets and order forms.
But the Oct. 25 soiree in Queen Anne's County has an interesting twist -- it's being put on by a government agency that decided it is better to wine and dine than just whine about the state's fiscal crisis.
All it needs is some songs and Busby Berkeley choreography, and you have the 1990s version of "Hey kids, let's put on our own show!"
Queen Anne's Department of Social Services has swallowed a $30,000 loss just three months into the new fiscal year. There's no guarantee the department won't be looking at a bigger bite later. These shortfalls threaten the programs the DSS director, Bill Wise, considers progressive and cost-efficient -- so-called family preservation services.
So Queen Anne's DSS decided to go the do-it-yourself route.
"The idea of the fund-raiser came in the dark of summer," Wise said. "There was fear of lay-offs. No one knew what was going to happen. Then the staff got together and rallied."
And Maggie Zierfuss, the event's coordinator, said the community also has rallied behind DSS. Food, drink, printing and raffle items were donated, so the DSS's outlay comes to zero.
"We started out with nothing," she said. "Because we have -- nothing."
As far as Wise can determine, his agency is the first in the deficit-plagued state to take financial matters into its own hands. It is an extreme step, Wise acknowledges, and one he has taken with reservations. Social service agencies have a tradition of remaining aloof from the money-raising end of government, because its clients are not in a position to pay.
"Although, at the same time, it's not a bad feeling," said Wise, who has been with DSS 25 years and never seen harder times than he has this year. It's the idea of taking control of his department's destiny that appeals to Wise.
The cocktail party, which is expected to generate sales of 500 tickets, for a total of $12,500, is only "idea number one," Wise added. Other fund-raising activities are to follow, all coordinated by Zierfuss, whose salary is paid by the county.
Inside the American Legion Hall in Stevensville, the $25 ticket buys all the drinks, raw oysters and hors d'oeuvres you want. Outside, it buys homeless services, nurturing classes and therapy for child abuse victims, at least for a few months more.