Suits and gowns floated around a crowded room at the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown Friday night, their occupants casually inspecting the art that covered the tables. Occasionally they’d put their cocktails down to sign their names next to a price.
Chris Rasmussen moved with more purpose, weaving through the dapper group, making sure everything was in the right place.
For the night, she was a volunteer in charge of the silent auction section of the Habitat for Humanity benefit, helping to raise money so that another family could afford to live on the Vineyard.
Two weeks ago, Ms. Rasmussen moved into her own Habitat for Humanity home with her three sons. It had taken more than a year — a grueling application process and 350 hours of what Habitat calls sweat equity — but it was worth it.
“It’s fabulous,” she said over the phone Monday, catching a little sun on her new porch in Vineyard Haven. “To be able to walk through the door and say, ‘Ahh, this is mine.’”
According to event organizers, Habitat would raise more than $40,000 in gross receipts Friday, a third more than last year’s auction. It would be enough to pay for half of the new Edgartown house the organization plans to start building in the coming weeks.
Finding and keeping housing can be tough on the Vineyard. According to Habitat, Vineyard home prices are 85 per cent above the statewide median and wages are 27 per cent below the statewide average.
Habitat has built five houses on the Island in an effort to make it possible for people like Ms. Rasmussen, a Montessori school teacher, to live on the Vineyard and continue contributing to the community.
“Our families have good jobs on the Island, like so many,” said Julie Willett, the executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Habitat for Humanity affiliate. “But their earnings just don’t allow them to apply for a conventional loan to buy a house.”
Ms. Willett likes to use the phrase, “it takes a village,” when describing Habitat. Events like the one on Friday demonstrate her point.
Ms. Rasmussen and other volunteers donated their time. Two of her sons, Taylor and Connor, sold raffle tickets. The Harbor View donated the venue and artists like photographer Alison Shaw donated their works.
The folks wearing the fine attire donated their money — lots of it.
Rick Lee and Susan Klein led the live auction. Their rapid-fire approach was like the sped-up legal jargon at the end of a pill commercial. They poked and prodded at the crowd, driving the bidding wars, reminding everyone where they were: apparently a place where money was no option.
“Oh, come on people, this is Edgartown,” Ms. Klein said into the microphone. “We’re looking for seventeen hundred. Come on, this is pocket change!”
Moments later the piece sold for $1,800 to cheers and applause.
The excitement grew and shrank as the night wore on, sometimes beaten down by shh’s from the auctioneers.
The chance to name an Offshore Ale brew after yourself sold for $550. A baseball sold for $475. Granted, it was signed by the Red Sox, but it was a baseball nonetheless.
It was all for the next family to find peace in a home of their own, to kick back on their porch for a moment’s rest, knowing the days of the Island shuffle between seasonal rentals were over.
For Ms. Rasmussen, that sense of place can surface at unexpected moments, for little things like confirming her place of residence
“A resident of Vineyard Haven, yes,” she said, and then paused as the words hit her. “That sounds so good. A permanent resident of Vineyard Haven. I never have to move again!”