Helping Hands Art and Craft Fair Returns After COVID-Induced Absence


Photo by: Elaina Plankey

Gavin McClowry and Lukas Schmerse

The Helping Hands Art and Craft Fair, spearheaded by Ms. Shelly Aaholm and held on Nov. 6 in the Ron Einerson Fieldhouse, raised a jaw-dropping $16,292.72 this year.

“The money goes to the families,” Aaholm said, speaking to the nature of the fair as a way to earn money to help students, families and other members of the community in need.

According to Human Rights Watch, 74.7 million Americans have lost their jobs during the pandemic. The craft fair will provide some of these local people with relief this holiday season, as the school will be using some of the money to supply Thanksgiving meals to those who need them. 

Also funded by the fair is a need-based scholarship, which is hoped to be self-sustaining as the interest generated from the account will replenish any amount that is taken and given to those in need.

Aaholm’s goal for the entirety of the fair is to make it as trouble-free as possible. According to the Neenah Satellite, there were 2,352 attendees in 2018. This year, around 3,000 people attended the fair. Such a jump in attendance would usually make the event harder to manage. 

“Strangely, this year was probably the smoothest [the fair] has ever run,” Aaholm said, speaking about the effects that the pandemic has had on the event. 

Throughout the event, Aaholm’s radio remained silent. 

Despite the fair being mask-required, there were no issues with refusals in wearing masks and only one person left the fair because of the requirement. Though there were 110 vendors to set up and manage, the 114 volunteers ensured hospitality for everyone during the fair. Aaholm encourages her volunteers to “kill them with kindness.”

A long list of potential vendors awaits their turn, and Aaholm remains intentional about everyone she lets solicit and who she places next to whom. She says it is critical there are not too many vendors selling the same items or two vendors that both sell jewelry right next to each other. This attention to detail keeps vendors coming back year after year.

These vendors form a community of their own, and Aaholm compared the feeling of returning to the fair after the year that COVID-19 stole with a “family reunion.” With Neenah being the family, all members of the family are welcome to play any role in the running of the craft fair.

When a seventh grader’s cake business was recommended to Aaholm by a teacher at Shattuck, she saw the potential for a new vendor. Aaholm reached out to the baker, and the student prepared 360 cupcakes to be sold. In the first two hours of the fair, she sold out completely. 

“There are students here that have either a crafty side or an artistic side, and I want students to see they can do something with that on the side, even if you have an office job. You can do that and make money; people will purchase items from you. That’s a great side hustle.”

After 12 fairs, the 13th continues to bring in new people wanting to bring well-crafted products home as they help the community grow through scholarships, meals or simply giving money directly to those who need it.