Volunteer solicitors for the benefit auction for the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine cast a wide net and brought in quite a haul — 500 donations, including a European getaway.

“I think every business in this area wants to support nonprofits,” said Suzanne Olson, the museum’s executive director. “It’s just about finding the right match.”

Fundraising totals were still being finalized at press time, but the museum thought the results could be in line with its goal of $75,000 to $80,000.

The auction, the museum’s largest annual fundraiser, supports educational exhibits, programs and productions. Community support is crucial because a little less than half of the funds needed to run the museum comes from tickets, admission and memberships.

“Tonight supports our direct work with children and families, the most important parts of what happens at the museum and theatre,” Olson said.

Silent auction items included original art, children’s activities, certificates for local restaurants and services, gourmet foods, jewelry and a variety of unusual gifts — something for anybody.

“It’s a great way to engage with a lot of community partners and individuals,” said arts educator Louisa Donelson. “It becomes a large community event.”

Breaking a record for the organization, 79 membership scholarships were sold via auction and will go to families who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford frequent museum visits.

“I feel really strongly that all kids need opportunities to learn and grow in open-ended ways,” Olson said.

She said that when kids walk into the museum, “there’s no feeling ‘I’m not rich enough I’m not old enough,’ or whatever. They walk in with so much anticipation and excitement.”

Lucy Bangor, marketing and public relations manager, said she overheard a little girl tell her father: “This WHOLE museum is for playing!”

Museum staff put on programming for children every half-hour, with educational experiences related to arts, culture and science typically not available in schools.

“It’s a unique style of programming that is imagination-based and play-oriented,” Donelson said.

“It’s a really interactive, awesome place, so I was glad to help pitch in,” said Lori Voornas, radio personality on Q97.9, who volunteered as the emcee for the silent auction. She said her kids love the museum’s pirate ship and diner.

“They’re doing great new programs, like special programs for kids with autism,” said Diane Boas, a former director of development of the Children’s Theatre of Maine before it merged with the museum. “We want to support organizations that reach out to underserved populations and promote diversity.”

“For little Portland, Maine, it’s unbelievable,” said Barry Schklair of Cape Elizabeth. “But it’s typical of Portland, to over-achieve.”

Bree LaCasse said her 3-year-old son has a membership and goes to the museum with his grandmother every Tuesday.

“Apparently, everyone there knows him,” LaCasse laughed. “And, for him, it never gets old.”

The Children’s Museum was founded in 1976, and it merged with the Children’s Theatre of Maine in 2008.

“My older son used to go when it was on Stevens Avenue, and now my two younger ones go to birthday parties there,” said Lynne Cross of Cape Elizabeth. Big hits with her family include the fire truck, farm and lobster boat.

“Just one night a year, we have just grownups at the party,” laughed Bangor.

Auction organizers and guests enjoyed a perfect sunset over Portland Harbor from the Ocean Gateway. Sophisticated hors d’oeuvres from Local Sprouts Catering and complementary beer and wine set a decidedly adult tone for the crowd of about 300 museum supporters.

“My wife and I buy art every year,” said Gordon Holman of Portland.

“It’s our group annual outing,” added Megan Freise, planning to bid on art for the first time.

Live auction items included 30 unique experiences available to the highest bidder. Think big: A complete lobster bake for 10. A Justin Bieber concert in Boston. Or a Portland Sea Dogs skybox for 22.

The highest bid was for a stay at a villa in Los Cabos, Mexico, or Costa Rica — bringing in more than $6,000 for the museum.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer from Scarborough. She can be reached at:

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