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I need some help! My husband is the executive director of a men's rescue mission. Each year we have a fundraising banquet to attract new donors.
I am in charge of setting the banquet up and come up with a new theme and the room decorations, which includes the table centerpieces. This year we used white lunch sacks with sand and candles to make luminaries on the tables (got the idea from movie "first wife's club"). We lowered the lights in the room and it was very nice and we received many compliments. The best part was for 25 tables, it only cost $30.
Now, I'm not a real creative person, but I can run with a good idea (like the luminaries). Our financial resources are very limited, so my budget is always a VERY short shoestring. SO . . . the challenge I'm giving your readers (if they choose to accept it) is to give great ideas for table centerpieces that cost next to nothing! The tables we use each year are five feet across, so they need to keep that in mind. because we have done centerpieces that cost reasonable but were too small to balance out the table (a real bummer!).
Thanks in advance to everyone who can help me with this problem
and God bless!
Years ago we decorated for a church youth banquet, using oblong russet
potatoes, dried weeds collected by the roadside, and gray geese made
from origami and glued to the top of a thin wire. The weeds and wires
were stuck into each potato. In addition to being fun to make, they
were inexpensive, clever, and attractive.
Using a theme of "Step Up" (to help the Mission), why not collect used shoes
from friends (men and women's) or thrift stores. Spray paint the shoes gold
or silver or your theme color. Then arrange the shoes in the center of the
tables and slip flowers and candles among them.
In addition to making frugal
centerpieces, you might want to consider getting potted flowering plants
(i.e. azaleas, mums) and then raffling them to the guests! Your
organization would make more money, and people could bring home nice
flowers to enjoy. You might be able to get a garden center to donate the
plant. All they need is a square of foil or pretty paper and a nice
High Flying Suggestion
When I got married I ditched the idea of fresh flowers for table
decorations. For some reason, cut flowers depress me. We used helium
baloons with fancy ribbons which were tied to little decorative sandbags.
They were very inexpensive and looked great -- and the florest provided
them. If I had the sense to make them myself I would have saved even more
money. Of course, my naughty nephews popped open one of the sandbags, but
I'm guessing that your husband's dinner guests don't have that
Tissue's the Trick
One of my cousins had the most beautiful centerpieces at her wedding. Her
mom took canning jars (or recycled mayo or pickle jars) and wrapped a jar
with tissue paper. There was a darker color closest to the jar, a medium
color, then white on the outside. By wrapping a jar, I mean she laid the
tissue paper out flat, set the jar down in the middle, took the 4 corners,
and gathered them at the top of the jar. She then tied giftwrap ribbons
(that matched the tissue paper) around the neck of the jar. No one was the
wiser! It should cost less than $1 per centerpiece. Tissue paper can be
boughten cheaply at Dollar General Stores. Not sure about the cheapest
place to buy giftwrap ribbon.
Natural Fall Setting
Just the other day I went to a lunch at church where they used a pretty
fall/harvest centerpiece for the tables. They used a smallish pumpkin, a
6" pot of marigolds and/or garden mums and a small basket. They cleaned
the pumpkin out and used it as a pot holder for the flowers. The
pumpkin/flowers sat in the shallow basket with the pumpkin "lid" leaning
against the arrangement. It was very pretty and I'm sure didn't cost
My sister and husband and his family put together a wonderful anniversary party for her in-laws 50th wedding anniversary. The place they rented was the average hall and in just a few hours they transformed it into a "cinderella's castle". It was beautiful. The biggest thing done was to rent a helium tank and make gold and creme balloon bouquets. At least 300 baloons were used in very strategic places to hide the drabness. Then since the party was right after christmas they got an evergreen tree and evergreen boughs and wreaths for next to nothing. Sitting in the middle of the 5 foot tables, the wreathes had fat creme candles inside of hurricane lamps. On either side the boughs were placed with gold thread woven into the boughs. With the candle light everything sparkled. Then on the tables (with white tableclothes) my sister spread gold "50" confetti around. The party was a smash! After the party I took several of the decorations and used them for an open house at my office a few days later. That too was a huge success. I guess the key to the party was to look to nature for ideas.
Free for the Finding
Pine cones, red wild berries, acorns or wild nuts or anything native to your area, spray paint, empty cans, glue gun, put them all together and you'll have some fantastic table decorations.
Best of all your main items are free for the picking. If you cook, you'll already have
cans. The only items which may have to be purchased are spray paint, a glue
gun and glue sticks which can be used for future projects!
Candles and Clippings
I have a tip for inexpensive candle holders that you might consider using for table decorations. If you have the option of using tapered candles (sometimes in public settings you aren't allowed to have an open flame), believe it or not, the tops of individual Sparklett's type water bottles work well. Take the lid off and then, using a straight edged blade, cut off the top part of the bottle. It will look a little like an inverted champagne glass without the stem. You can cover the ridges where the lid screwed on with ribbon to match your decor. A ring of ivy or leaves around the base of the "candle holder" will camouflage it and leave you with an inexpensive, yet elegant looking decoration.
Any old basket spray painted gold (or whatever color matches your decor)
and then filled with autumn leaves, shells, fresh fruits or vegetables
(which everyone takes home with them!) can make lovely centerpieces!
Clippings from plants around your home (ivys work so well) that are placed
in the tiny potting containers and then covered with cloth or camouflaged
inside the basket can add lots to your centerpiece too!
For Christmas and Winter Gatherings
1) Go outside and start hunting up those pinecones and evergreen branches. Collect a whole bunch of them.
Here's one other thing for table decorations...
Make sure the apples are very firm and that they have a flat surface so they can sit upright without tilting. Core them just wide enough to hold the taper snugly and poke the pine branches (twigs?) into the sides of the apples evenly all around. The moisture from the apple should keep the branches alive and well for a few days.
Feel free, if you don't like the natural look, to embellish however...
Candles and Confetti
Inexpensive centerpieces can be made from 2 liter soda bottles. Wash thoroughly, and cut off the bottom 2/3. Center the top 1/3 of the bottle over several squares of tulle. Bring corners up and gather around the mouth of the bottle. Tie with attractive ribbons. You could also put several silk blossoms under the "dome" part of the bottle. The mouth of the bottle becomes a taper candle holder. There are many ways to vary this idea by changing colors, flowers, etc. Don't know if this would be enough for a large table - perhaps a grouping of 3.
Confetti scattered over the table looks festive too, and craft stores carry many different shaped paper punches, so you could match your "theme". This would probably be pretty labor intensive, but something that kids would enjoy doing while watching TV.
You didn't mention what time of year your banquet will occur, so here are a few different suggestions:
1. You can make cute fall "scare-crow" centerpieces using old children's clothing, some stuffing, and hay. Look for yard sale or thrift store bargains such as tiny sized jeans or other solid color pants and little flannel or checked shirts. Allow some bits of hay to stick out of the arm and leg openings and then sew (hot glue might work but I think you'd be better off sewing) the openings shut. Stuff the body with old rags or even newspaper until they are as plump as you'd like. You can make the head out of a styrofoam ball covered with straw, or even easier, an old tan sock with features drawn on and hay or yarn glued on for hair. Top with a hat if you'd like and you have a mini scarecrow. You could put one on each table, accented by fall vegetables like pretty colored squash or pumpkins (your scare crow will probably need to lean against something unless you put him on a stick for support
2.. At christmas, or if you would like a more elegant centerpiece, gather fairly long, thin sticks (I try to find ones that are about 2-3 feet long. Spray paint them white. You can add a bit of glitter if you'd like. I have used old, clear florists containers (ones with fairly wide mouths) - put some of that pretty irredescent streamer stuff from the party-supply store in the jar, and then add several of the painted branches. If you can't find enough clear containers, try using any kind of container (large coffee cans, anything) and wrap the containers with pretty tissue (kind of like florists wrap their pots, just bunch the paper up around the container, tie with curling ribbon or any other kind of ribbon that you like. To dress up the area under the "arrangement" think about scattering some of that fake snow stuff, or more of the irredescent streamers or confetti. If it has a little sparkle, it will catch your lowered light and look very pretty.
3. In the spring or summer (or maybe when you just wish it was) you can use a garden theme to do lots of cute things. Use LOTS of ivy on your tables. Where I live people have more than they want and are glad to let me "harvest" it from their yards. Don't cut it too far ahead or it will wilt. I have used new clay flower pots as serving pieces (wash pot, line with aluminium foil and you're ready to serve). Because clay flower pots are so inexpensive (and you can use them again later, they make good centerpiece bases). You might fill them with ivy, small plants (if you can use them later, that will cut the expense) - Wander around the garden center looking for ideas. For my wedding, I used small flower pots and styrofoam balls which covered with dried spanish moss to make topiaries. I filled the pots with sand or small rocks, stuck a stick into the styrofoam ball and then into the pot - very fast, very cute, and very cheap.
4. Another tip from the wedding - if your center has pictures of staff members, events, clients, whatever might be appropriate, you can frame them and use them as part of your center piece design. You could make frames from decorated cardbord squares, or you could "jazz up" some frames that you already have or might could get from others (ones they don't want anymore, perhaps) Depending on your situation, this might be a good way to decorate, and show off the great things your facility has done in the past year at the same time.
5. Finally, candles, as you learned last year, can be a very inexpensive but elegant decoration. Try buying very small flower pots, spray paint them a metallic gold, fill with sand or bird seed (be sure to tape the hole on the bottom closed) and set votive candles on top of the sand or bird seed. These wouldn't fill up your table, but they might be used to add accents to other table-top ideas.
How about clear containers, like vases, filled with apples (red and green
for xmas) or inexpensive, but pretty and colorful, seasonable vegetables
Colored Leaves, Colored Paper
Now that Fall is approaching (or is here already in some areas like Winnipeg where I live) how about collecting bright leaves of red, gold and green and heaping them up in baskets bought at garage sales or borrowed from friends and neighbors. Scatter a few leaves on the table cloth as well. You might be able to find inexpensive plastic napkin rings that you could glue a leaf or two on to add to the effect. Spray paint some gold or silver.
If you or someone in your group is handy with your hands, you could create
large origami animals out of coloured paper. You can find origami books
with instructions at the local public library or book store ( or maybe even
find instructions on the Web - I haven't looked) and use sheets of
newspaper , then spray paint the resulting animal or bird or what ever you
decided to fold. Some of the animals in the book I have are quite
complicated, but others are simple like the crane or frog.
Concerning Bonnie K.'s fundraising banquet... You need to see this as an
event that can further bring the community together. Try to enlist your
local Christian schools in your effort. You can select a different
school each year. They can do the decorating (kids have endless ideas
and energy for these things), providing their own decorations. They can
also provide the entertainment: bands, chorus, drama, etc. In return
they get lots of free advertising. You can also tithe to the school from
the proceeds. This will help to cover the costs of the decorations and
help those areas of the school which gave the most in the fundraising
efforts (i.e.: music sheets for the band, new robes for the chorus,
backdrops for the drama group).
Start with Cones
Use pine cones and leaves from trees for fall decorations
Or pine cones, holly or Christmas ornaments with candles
My office has a yearly Christmas party and for table decorations we have used Magnolia Leaves (they are very large and quite lovely), pine, cedar, Holly (if no kids), pine cones (these have been spray painted clear, gold, or silver), and red satin balls (the type you can get at a dollar store). We lay them down the center of the table. The smell is wonderful! You could also include candles. One year each place setting had one mint. Another year each place setting had a "scroll" about Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. We have also cutout snowflakes and attached them to a stage curtain and taped them on windows.
If it is in the Fall/Autumn you could use pumpkins, gourds, corn, corn stalks, branches with leaves and acorns, and leaves (that have changed color).
If in the Spring try to get daffodils and other spring time flowers.
You can sprinkle glitter on the tables if using table clothes. This is especially nice if using candles or low lighting.
Depending on the room, you could use florist wire to hang pine, cedar,
magnolia, or holly boughs to decorate the rest of the room (I do this
every year to my front porch railings with red and golds bows).
Recently my husband cut down and dug out the roots of some old evergreen type bushes along the side of our house. We discovered that the cut up logs smelled like cedar, so I took a nicely shaped one inside, placed it on the mantle over the fireplace, and gently placed colored leaves (which I collected from the trees around our house) on top and around the log. I also used some pine cones, acorns, Indian corn, and small pumpkins to add to the Fall decoration.
Along the same lines, you could take an approximately 4" in diameter log such as this that has a fragrance, cut it in 1" pieces, and decorate with leaves, acorns, corn, pine cones, sea shells, and even dried flowers or dried fruit which can also give off a wonderful aroma. Speaking of aroma, try cinnamon sticks and mint tea leaves. I've also used potpourri pieces. You can attach smaller items with a dab from the hot glue gun.
Collecting the sea shells gives you a good excuse to walk the shore line, and collecting the acorns, pine cones, flowers to try, etc. are excellent ways of getting out of the stuffy house and getting fresh air and exercise while saving yourself money to make crafts! Happy decorating!
Martha Jean H.