The first request came two weeks ago. My friend from university wrote in our group chat that her daughter’s middle school choir was hosting a fundraiser. (Wait! Didn’t school just start?)

She informed us – or warned us, depending on your viewpoint – that we would be getting a link to a GoFundMe page, sent via e-mail from her six-grader, asking for a contribution, and indeed we did receive a message from the budding saleswomen; several, in fact, over the course of the past two weeks, each providing the link and encouraging generosity. One featured the choir with hands clasped, a pleading look on their faces saying “Puhleeez remember our fundraiser.” Smart, with the picture. Any grandparent on their distribution list would rather skip a week’s worth of meals than turn down that savvy appeal.

A short time later, another request pinged on my phone. A different friend, with a different set of kids, with a different fundraiser, this time with cookies. Could we support their cause, please?

It’s that time of year, when children all across the continent buckle down to not only homework, but also to peddle gift wrap, candy, kitchen gadgets, and coupon books, to raise money for various groups and activities. Other people mark the start of autumn by dipping temperatures and changing leaves, but I recognize the change of season when kids (other than my kids) begin asking for money.

I feel like I’m a veteran of these rituals. When I was attending school, I hawked all manner of goods – a mandatory, not optional, activity. Back then our fundraisers were to supplement the school’s budget, not just provide funding for clubs and athletic teams. At one point I’m sure my grandmother had tissue paper in a dozen colors, gift bows in assorted sizes, and enough wrapping paper to last several decades. And that was just for starters. Over the years I sold greeting cards, calendars, cases of chocolate-covered almonds and chocolate bars, refrigerator magnets, and gourmet popcorn, and those are just the things I remember.

My own kids had to participate in many fundraising activities, as well. Most of their efforts were sports related; they have done a lot of grocery bagging and bottle drives, and of course we did a few years of even split tickets, for hockey. Those were always the more difficult ones to unload, as nearly every single person we know had the same quota to sell.

Fundraising efforts these days have evolved to be more creative. In the past few years I have been asked to buy cases of frozen fish, flower bulbs to plant, even tickets on European vacations. Just last year I was conned into buying a stained-glass cookie plate and some kind of jar opener I still don’t know how to use.

There are also time contributions in addition to requests for cash. I have spent multiple Saturdays grilling hot dogs to sell at functions, I have manned photo booths and concession stands, and I have generated advertising and promotional materials. Sometimes a request will come in asking for sponsorships from parents’ employers.

It can be overwhelming to support every cause. At any given time I could rhyme off a dozen kids who are in the thick of a fundraiser, so it would be impossible to buy from everyone (I joke with my husband that if I bought tickets from everyone who asked, I wouldn’t even recoup my money if I won the prize). It can be awkward, even stressful, for people to figure out who to support, because that usually means you have someone to decline. And on the other side of it, it can also be very stressful having to solicit for support, knowing the pressure it places on your family and friends.

It always made me a little squirrely to think about the way fundraising exacerbates the inequalities that already exist between schools and groups. While some groups struggle to raise enough money for the equipment and resources required to even participate in activities, other groups have enough funds to travel overseas. I’m not even sure exactly what to blame for disparity, though I know the group of parents involved – their contacts, their occupations, their fundraising know-how, and the reach and influence that entails – contribute to the failure and success of an organization’s efforts.

Makes me look at my mysterious lid opener in a whole new light, but doesn’t stop me from filling my pantry with cookies.