'A new day for elephants in Erwin' - Benefit auction set for Saturday

Sue Guinn Legg • Oct 17, 2018 at 6:32 PM

ERWIN — RISE Erwin’s second annual Trunk Project auction of the town’s popular baby elephant statues will play out Saturday afternoon at the Gathering Place park downtown.

Expanded this year to benefit nonprofit organizations chosen by the statue’s sponsors as well as two nonprofit elephant protection organizations, the auction will begin at noon and is expected to wrap up by 1:30 p.m.

Professional auctioneer Kimball Sterling, who last year auctioned away RISE Erwin’s first herd of elephant statues to the tune of more than $16,000 in proceeds for The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, will preside over the bidding.

The benefit will also include a musical performance by Unicoi County High School drama students who produced a music video of a song they wrote for Stella, the purple elephant statue painted by a UCHS student artists.

Their video “Stella Shines On!”, featuring student singers with ukulele accompaniment, can be viewed on YouTube and on Saturday will include a new verse written by the students in advance of the auction.

Based on the enthusiasm expressed so far by people eager to bid, RISE Erwin President Jamie Rice is hopeful Saturday’s event will match last year’s success.

Seventy percent of the proceeds from each sponsored statue sold this year will go the nonprofit organizations chosen by the statue sponsors. Twenty-five percent will go to the Hohenwald sanctuary and the charitable arm of Thailand-based Elephant Parade company that manufactures the statues and uses a portion of its proceeds to protect Asian elephant habitats.

The local beneficiaries include Relay for Life of Unicoi County, Holston United Methodist Home for Children in Greeneville, Southern Appalachian Ronald McDonald House in Johnson City and Love Chapel Christian Church in Erwin.

Rice said RISE Erwin modeled the Trunk Project auction after the bear statue auctions that have been successfully conducted by the town of Hendersonville, N.C., for many years, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for nonprofit organizations in that community.

She said plans are already being made for Erwin’s third herd of baby elephants to go on display downtown next spring. And her hope is the charity auctions will be as enduring and successful here as they have been in Hendersonville.

In addition to the charities that receive the proceeds, Rice said the statues benefit the town and its merchants as well by adding to Erwin’s beauty and by bringing in more foot traffic, shoppers and diners downtown to see the statures. And then, she said, there are the children of the community who will grow up with a positive association of elephants and Erwin.

“My children will grow up with all these wonderful associations of elephants and Erwin, walking through downtown to see the elephant statues, having their pictures made with them and eating ice cream at the shop with the the puzzle-piece elephant outside. It’s a new day for elephants in Erwin,” Rice said.

Bidding on each of the eight statues will begin at $1,500. Those who wish to bid but are unable to attend may arrange the assistance of a proxy bidder by downloading a bid by proxy form available at www.erwintn.org. Completed forms must be received by noon on Friday, Oct. 19, by email to [email protected]

For more information about the auction or assistance making absentee bidding arrangements, call Jamie Rice at 423-743-6231 or 423-220-7624.

Email Sue Guinn Legg at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.

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