The raffle is a steadfast part of Salvadoran Lutheran Church culture. For 10 cents each, people can purchase their tiny little numbers, written in ink on tiny little squares of paper (each folded in fourths so the number is not visible - resulting in a final little-folded-number-paper that is typically about the size of a pea).
The prize is almost always a basket of some kind, filled with thematic goodies and all wrapped up in cellophane with a big bow. I have seen people win small plastic laundry tubs with Rinso detergent, towels, homemade quesadilla (cheesecake), fruit, shampoo, baby-themed stuff, Valentine bears and more. The most interesting prize baskets are made when people donate items to put into the baskets. These pot-luck baskets contain anything from kitchen glasses to little stuffed animals to embroidered cloths.
What's so great about a raffle? It's fun! Everyone likes to have a chance to win something. In addition, the raffle is a practical funding mechanism for all kinds of ministries: from Sunday School to Christmas gifts for church kids to snacks for a meeting to new covers for the altar. I was recently at an raffle where tickets cost $1 each, and the prize was a new stove! This raffle was held to raise money for a church construction project.
When it's time for la rifa everyone reaches into pockets and purses to find their little pea-sized numbers. Someone serves as an MC. The drawing of the numbers is done with dramatic flair, usually with an honored guest, or a beloved grandma or a child as the "chooser." With eyes closed the chooser selects a number and the MC calls out the number and says "NO!" Suspense makes it all the more fun. It is very typical for several numbers to be called as "NOT the winners" before the MC declares "the next number called will be the winner!"
My husband once won the raffle at the graduation ceremony at the Sewing School in our sister church community. All those anxious ladies waiting to win, and there he was holding a basket of practical kitchen and laundry stuff wrapped up with a big bow. Winning with dignity, and re-gifting later is an acceptable option.
The reason I am writing about La Rifa is because we recently held a raffle at the Family Circle Program in our sister church community. It was seriously the most fun we have ever had at a raffle. Here's how it came about...
Churches in the US are very generous and like to collect and give things to families in El Salvador. Generally, as someone who mentors and accompanies sister churches and delegations, I encourage people to buy things in El Salvador (such as school supplies, food for nutrition programs, basic medications for first aid kits, etc.) which supports the Salvadoran economy and provides people with products that are appropriate and useful. That said, gathering, packing and donating gifts from the US can be a good and helpful experience too. It can be a first step for a family to "get connected" with the relationship their church has in El Salvador. Things we typically collect and carry to El Salvador include art supplies, games (like checkers and chess), toothbrushes, non-consumable first aid supplies and sewing items - especially fabric.
Our sister church community has a long history of teaching sewing and encouraging people to sew in order to support themselves. The fabric we bring is donated by quilting groups from a couple of US churches. It is fabric which is not suitable for making Lutheran World Relief quilts because of its pattern or texture. This means we get lots of sparkly, fun fabrics - perfect for sewing children's and women's clothing. We also receive fabric from families of grandmas who can no longer sew.
Sometimes it is very difficult to figure out how to distribute gifts to a Salvadoran sister church in an equitable fashion. Rather than leaving a suitcase full of fabric at the church, we recently asked our partners if it would be OK to have a fabric raffle. We divided the fabric into little bundles, each bundle tied with a pretty ribbon. There were enough bundles so that everyone could win. We made two sets of tiny paper numbers, keeping one set to draw from and folding the second set into pea-sized squares. We placed the "peas" into a plastic bucket and passed it around until every adult had a number. As we called out the random number selections, each winner came forward to select his or her fabric bundle. Yes, HIS or her bundle. This was a raffle at the Family Circles program, in which children from age 0 to 5 participate with a grown-up. There are some awesome dads and grandpas that bring their little ones, and these men were actually more excited about the fabric than the women!
Each parent, grandparent, teacher and honored guest received fabric, and it was super fun to hear the winners discussing their ideas for skirts, preschool outfits, curtains, and bedclothes. One dad came up to me at dismissal time and said, "This is very practical, thanks so much!"
In the bottom of the suitcase of fabrics, we had a mattress bag full of donated random sewing stuff. Yesterday, I assembled 25 quart bags of notions and sewing needles - secret prizes for a future gathering or celebration during which we might just have a raffle.