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Home » Donors Choose and Contests

Contest: The Halloween Heist

Submitted by on October 31, 2009 – 10:15 AM39 Comments

In previous years, when I’d tell someone our fundraising goal for October — at a cocktail party, say, or while arranging a match with $ and the Mysterians — that someone would always say something encouraging. “That’s awesome — good luck!” “Wow, cool!”

This year, nothing but eyebrows. Both eyebrows, every time. “It’s 150, and then if they get to 210, I’ll dress as a tomato and… [brows shoot up all Look, Lady, There’s “Ambitious” And Then There’s “Bazoo”] …I’ll just trail off now. Unless you have five bucks?”

The brows had a point. It’s a ridiculous amount of money in a crappy economy. I probably should have set the goal point lower, gotten more matches lined up over the summer, whatever, and you can say what you like about big risks having big payoffs — betting big means losing big, sometimes, too. Usually, in fact.

I assumed we would get it done. I can’t explain why. Some of you would have jobs now who didn’t last year. Some of you would see prizes you liked more than prizes from before. Someone would get an inheritance, maybe, or someone would tweet something that someone rich and famous would read, and notice us, and bet big bucks on red.

And of course some of you would have lost your jobs, or started grad school, or gotten in fender-benders or bought houses, and why would the rich and famous give money on the say-so of a writer whose primary subjects include candy and startle poo. Why would anyone? I knew all that.

I strolled down the field and waited near the end zone, eating cookies, for the Hail Mary pass I believed would float into view, because I also know you. The brows think Bet Red is “cute.” Well, all right, but it’s a legendary offense, is what it is.

I could belabor the metaphor at some length, but fortunately for everyone, I don’t know enough about football to do so. I do know how lucky I feel — that I got by with that big bet, sure, but also to know all of you, and to have witnessed the win — but I also know that that big number, those matches, that isn’t “luck.” That’s hard work, rewarded. That’s a (bank) job well done.

Thank you. Thank you all, big and small.

The challenge is still open, but I have nothing to give away today but kudos. Please continue donating if you would like to, or concentrate on your Halloween costume instead if you’d rather. The Great Internsby and I have to dig out from under a mountain of administrative crap, and then I’ll head over to Casa Stupidhead to take pictures of the Master in his lion outfit, and then I’ll sleep the sleep of the righteous, and then I’ll give prizes away and plan my trip to AC.

The spreadsheet will remain up through November; the Bet Red page should stay active, but I’ll get confirmation. Post any questions in the comments; your patience while I take the mental equivalent of a long bubble bath for 36 hours is appreciated.




  • JenInBoston says:


  • Leigh in CO says:

    Happy Halloween, my fellow Tomato Nationals. And soak well, Sars. A job very well done.

  • Cristina in Vienna says:

    Enjoy it! You thoroughly deserve it! So does the whole nation! Happy Halloween everyone, enjoy the awesome and don’t forget the big kahuna. Lots of snifs and pats on the back all around from across the ocean.

  • Grace says:

    Every year when the contest comes around, I can’t say no. I’m still employed, but I’ve had my pay cut, so I had to swallow hard before I ponied up the cash… and then I kicked in more money a week later when we were chasing the big HP match.

    If you hadn’t set the bar ridiculously high, I don’t think we would have made it. We all wanted to see you reach your target (and yes, go to AC as a tomato), so even those of us who might have given less (or not at all) this year were compelled to chip in as much as we could, and pass this along in hopes of bring new money to the table.

    And I know what I’m popping into the DVD player later today…

  • Sandman says:

    “… lion outfit” – snif.

  • Maria says:

    Happy Halloween, everyone.

    Enjoy the view from HQ, Sars. You deserve the weekend, and the month of November, off.

    Snif! indeed.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    I would add also that, even with the matches subtracted, you still hit the 150K goal.

    TN challenge lifetime total is somewhere in the neighborhood of $570,000.

  • Charmaine says:

    Thanks for an amazing October, enjoy your bubbles Sars!
    Almost 50,000 students impacted, all the numbers are amazing, this number of kids is sooo Cool!

  • Asirda says:

    I can’t speak for anyone else, and I fortunately missed any prior references to “startle poo,” but I’ve been an enthusiastic participant in this fund-raising drive for the last several years BECAUSE (a) you, Sars, are a witty writer whose intelligence, heart and common sense shines through everything you publish on here, (b) (who should thank whatever Gods they believe in for your having adopted their — admittedly brilliant — funding approach) is attempting to right injustices and inequities that humans should never permit to continue, but (and most importantly) (c) the fact that the people who read this site “get it.” They come together every October, from everywhere on the globe (and maybe elsewhere) to declare their allegiance to a self-selected “Tomato Nation,” to open their hearts and wallets to schoolkids. Their nationality, race, gender, or religion become irrelevant; they understand that together we really can change the status quo — and they and you and we and I can and do every damned year!

    Three cheers to the Tomato Nation!!! Hip. Hip, Hurrah!

  • Rachel says:

    MORE than 50,000 students. I can’t wait to get my gift cards and finish off some of the projects I couldn’t afford to donate more too. I gave WAY more than I’d planned on giving, but you all kept pointing me towards awesome sounding projects and I couldn’t help it.

    I know this is “just” a bunch of strangers on the internet, but I love being a part of this every year – it makes me believe that good, amazing things are possible. Thank you to all of you for giving me hope. I’m going to bookmark this and re-read it whenever my faith in humanity it waning.

    Before I get any more ridiculously sappy, I’m gonna go try and put a hat on my black cat for Halloween.

    Sniff indeed.

  • Jenno says:

    Woo Hoo, y’all! We passed 50,000 students reached and 1,100 donors! That’s a small town helping a decent-size town.

    So the next time someone whines to you about America going to hell in handbasket, and how the economy has ruined everybody’s fun, tell them about the Great Tomato Nation of Generosity and all the games that will be played, books that will be read, art that will be created, trips that will be taken, and smiles that will be smiled because we refused to buy into the malaise.

    Thank you Sars for inspiring us all!

  • Ms. G. says:

    I’m one of the teachers whose project got funded – yesterday, in fact. I emailed a thank you to Sars as soon as I found out, but I wanted to post it here too for all of you.

    Dear Sars and everyone at Tomato Nation,

    It’s not quite 4 am and I’m sitting at my laptop in tears. But not like the 4 am kind of tears that mean something terrible just happened.

    Sometimes I don’t sleep very well, and so I get up and go do something while I’m waiting to feel tired again. Tonight was one of those nights. As I was playing on the internet, I decided to go look at my DonorsChoose page just for kicks – I like to check in every day on my projects. Usually not much has changed (often not anything). Today was different.

    My page looked different. Suddenly my projects had been split up – and one was listed as fully funded. What?

    I clicked through to the page. Yesterday, three Bet Red donors finished funding my project to create digital stories. (Four Bet Redders gave in total.)

    Although I knew that Donors Choose was a great organization, although I knew that donors help teachers and students every day through them…..somehow it hadn’t seemed quite real till now. Hadn’t seemed possible.

    You guys kick SO MUCH ASS.

    From me, from my kids, from everyone you’ve funded –


    Much love,

    Ms. G!

  • Ellen says:

    I spent all day yesterday and most of today in bed (hooray, flu!) and was wondering how the challenge was going along. Seeing where were are as of now, reading this missive, seeing Ms. G’s note? Better medicine cannot be found.

    Rock on Nation, and enjoy your downtime Sars.

  • CherylS says:

    Ah, Ms. G,

    I’m with you on that. I’d never heard of Tomato Nation and this challenge until this year, when Charmaine let me know about it. I’ve written one DC project (last year) and completely bawled when it was funded. This year, I was trying to push a co-worker’s project for our tiny school, and it was featured in this challenge. That night, I checked, hoping against hope – and it was completed. Even though it was the middle of the night, and it wasn’t even MY project, again I cried. Then I had the thrill of telling my co-worker, and we cried together! Our cameras just came yesterday, and you should have seen how excited the kids were. I cried a third time. The kindness of strangers always overwhelms me. Tomato Nation is the awesomest of all possible awesomes, and I will be a follower ever after!

  • Jen S says:

    And every year, the Great Tomato rises out of the tomato patch, and brings funding for all the boys and girls!

    He had to pick this tomato patch, he had to–there’s nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see.

    Happy Halloween, everybody! Enjoy the fun size KitKats, the parties, and the AWESOME.

  • DAC says:

    @Mrs. G — er, what are your other projects? *waggles eyebrows*

  • Linda says:

    It’s an incredible amount of money. But as I’ve sometimes commented in the past, it’s also just an incredible show of good faith to teachers, letting them know that you are behind them, that you hear them, that you care that they empty their pockets to pay for the things their classrooms need. I think they need to hear that their work hasn’t been forgotten, and that the fact that they have to make special appeals to get desks and composition books — which I have to imagine can ONLY feel like nobody gives a damn — does not actually mean nobody gives a damn.

    What I love about this every year is the number of teachers and kids who get the message that we hear them and we are behind them. We know it’s hard, but we thank them for not giving up. I remember just tearing up when I read about this one teacher referring to her kids as “my babies,” because there just isn’t any place for that to come from except the heart. I think it’s incredibly useful to provide the supplies, but it’s also critical to show support. Teaching is community service, and every project that gets funded says, “We are listening.”

  • Kathryn says:

    Hooray! Thank you Sars, and thank YOU Ms. G. Seeing the Bet Red total AND your letter has to be one of the best Halloween treats ever!

  • Sandman says:

    Aw, Ms. G!

    And, just to polish off the “then you take the house” metaphor, by my count, the number of projects funded on October 1, the very first day of the challenge?


  • Deanna says:

    I love this time of year too. I get so excited about the energy here and how everyone cheers everyone else on. It’s such an incredible and positive experience. Can’t wait to spend my DC gift cards in the coming weeks.

    Anyone else pulling up the Ocean’s Eleven YouTube clip of the guys standing around the fountain? *Sniff*

  • Charmaine says:

    @DAC after a bit of searching here is Ms. G’s other project, I only found one

  • Jenn says:

    I’ve followed Tomatonation for a few years now, but I was never in the position to donate. And this year, I was still strapped for cash, but I just couldn’t say no to some of these requests. I got down to $2.07 in my checking account this past week because there was a school in Oklahoma that needed freakin’ desks. Thanks for inspiring me to go without so that others could have things.

  • The Rachel says:


    I’m so proud of all of us, you guys. And we didn’t even have to build a replica bank vault to do it. Though I bet we totally could, through the power of our Awesome.

    Thank you, Sarah, for setting this up every year, and thank you for, well, being you, as corny as that seems. You manage to gather together a disparate group of grammar nerds, baseball fans, fans of snark, and Cat Parents and get us to do amazing things.

  • Pamela says:

    To every person who’s a citizen of this great Tomato Nation: thank you so much. Being a part of this project is a balm to my sometimes weary (but always hopeful) soul.

    Candy for everyone!

  • Elizabeth says:

    I know just enough about football to get myself into trouble with the metaphors:

    You, Sars, you launched a Hail Mary pass, the kind with two seconds left on the game clock and a whole bunch of interference downfield and the defenders closing in on you, the kind that everybody looks at and goes “well, not like she coulda done anything else, that’s the game.”

    The Nation?

    It’s called the Immaculate Reception.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    ‘Tis the season, after all:

    Dig #14. No idea what happened there but it looked hilarious.

  • DAC says:

    @Charmaine — Thanks so much for the research! Picture books are the best! And another project completed. :-)

  • Heather says:

    And the total keeps on climbing…think we can get the Big Kahuna done before it expires, folks?

    (Sars, are we going to get to see pictures of Master Lionhead? Pleeeease? I’m out of the Halloween loop this year, but that would help make up for it.)

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    I will post a Lionhead picture tomorrow.

    Also, “Ocean’s 11” is on TNT right now.

  • Emma says:

    So Sars, how does it feel to be a big-time fundraiser? I would bet $10,000 dollars a day is nothing to sneeze at even in the professional charity leagues.

  • Ms. G says:

    YOU GUYS. That is just…..thank you. Thank you so, so, so much.

    I cannot WAIT to go to school on Monday and tell my kids about this. They’re not even going to believe it.


  • Maria says:

    @Sars: Of course it’s on tonight. The Universe Knows These Kinds of Things.

    @Elizabeth: I was thinking along the lines of the Doug Flutie – Gerard Phelan connection, or more recently, The Catch (Eli Manning – David Tyree), but good ol’ Franco Harris! Yay!

    @Ms. G and CherylS: Keep fighting the good fight. Teachers like you are inspirational, not only to your students, but to those of us who admire what you do every day. And welcome to Tomato Nation. Stick around – it’s a hell of a good time, full of great people.

  • Heather says:

    The Big Kahuna has less than 20K left! (breaks into happy dance)

  • Kate says:

    You know, when I first read Sars’ goals, I thought “Are you suicidal?” But then I got a hold of myself and thought “Only in the morning.” I truly believed that the Great Nation of the Tomato would come through. I am so proud and humbled to be a citizen of that Nation.

    Thank you to all of you for making this October a season of hope.

  • Kate says:

    Oh, and as we count down the last minutes of October, the Yanks are ahead 7-4. 7-4 and $313,000. Life is so sweet.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    8-4! So much for the lack of DH being a huge problem.

  • Talix says:

    See, there I was, all feeling the love, and you had to bring the damn Yankees into it.

    In recognition of the greater good, I will rise above loyalties to any uniform besides the tomato costume (except maybe the lion); I will claim citizenship of no (bitter American League) city (south of Philly [too bad the Yankees didn’t make it a year earlier, eh, Moose?]) not within the borders of Tomato Nation.

    We did a good thing. Yay, us.

  • Elizabeth says:

    @Maria: Of all the catches in all the games in the world… well, you know, I have to go with the one that has the best name. “Immaculate Reception” is freaking genius. How can I say no?

  • Cij says:

    Two phrases that will now forever be in my vocabulary: Immaculate Reception and origawesome.

    The crane I won came in the mail and I hope to send a picture of it (next to a Tomato Nation Sticker) to Sars as soon as I figure out how to get the camera to talk to the computer. I’ve named it “Tom” (short for Tomato).

    I couldn’t give as much as I did last year (damn economy and about to lose my job), but seeing so many people reach deep into their wallets/hearts to help Teachers and Students gives me hope for our planet.

    I hope that next year we can out-do ourselves again, see what stunt Sars will do (maybe send a Tomato to dance on the great wall of china?) and to once again see how awesome Tomato Nation and its readers are.

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