Nobody can refuse a freckle-faced candy seller. Especially when she's 11 years old and on a mission.
Tasha Loveless wouldn't let a little thing like not having two pennies to rub together stop her school from having its annual graduation banquet. Her sixth-grade classmates at South Fairmount's Roosevelt Elementary School were going to be there. Diplomas were going to be distributed. Her mom even bought her a new black-and-white dress for the occasion.
"It would be sad if we didn't have this banquet," she said before Thursday night's ceremonies in a dining room atop the downtown Lazarus store. "Without it, I couldn't graduate."
Without Tasha and her classmates, they might not have had the banquet. From April through Wednesday, they sold $5,000 worth of candy. Of that total, $3,200 went back to the candy company. The remaining $1,800 paid for full-course banquet meals and graduation cakes for 45 students and 97 adult guests. Lazarus provided the room for free and cut a deal on the catering.
Tasha sold 240 candy boxes at $1 a pop. She was the school's best seller.
"Every day at lunch, she'd skip recess, stay inside and sell," says her principal, Bruce Breiner. "The first day she came to the teachers' lounge, she asked nicely if anyone wanted to buy a box of candy. At first, no one did. But, after the polite way she said, 'Thanks just the same' as she left, we called her back and bought some boxes."
Tasha skipped recess "because it's boring. People are always runnin' around and hitting you." She preferred to stay inside and perfect her sales pitch.
"Sooner or later, if you keep asking, they'll buy something," she explains. "But even if they don't buy, you have to say, 'thanks.' You don't want anybody to think you don't like them."
Roosevelt's Class of 1996 sold candy for a banquet that almost never was. The downtown Hyatt Regency - the business end of the school's Partners in Education program - used to pick up the tab for the banquet. It did that to the tune of $2,900 in 1995.
The hotel - which also has educational partnerships with Eastwood Paideia and Taft High School - is operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This year, citing "budgetary constraints," the Hyatt stopped giving a free ride to the sixth-graders' big day.
The Hyatt did conduct an in-house flower sale to offset some of the banquet's costs. Staffers contributed $240. That's the same amount of money Tasha raised selling boxes of M&M's, plain and peanut, during lunch.
The Hyatt's decision sent Tasha's sixth-grade teacher, Michelle Wright, scrambling to find a new banquet site and searching for a way to pay for it. She also wondered: Why us?
"This is an inner-city school," Mrs. Wright notes, "88 percent of our students receive some form of government aid."
Mark Roush, a Cincinnati police officer and the school's Drug Abuse Resistance Education instructor, sees Roosevelt's student body coming from "a neighborhood where Appalachian families meet African-American families. Sometimes they don't mesh. The school is old. (Roosevelt's cornerstone reads: 1924). The playground is blacktopped and small. The kids can't let off any steam. Sometimes that shows up in the classroom."
Such circumstances make graduation at Roosevelt doubly important.
"For too many of our students," Mrs. Wright says, "this graduation ceremony is the only one they're ever going to have."
Don't file Tasha in that category. She plans to go to college.
"I want to be a teacher, like Mrs. Wright," she says. "She's nice to us. She makes you feel good. I want to do that for other kids."
But first, she has to graduate from Roosevelt.
"I've never been to a banquet," she admits. "What's it like?"
First, everybody eats. Then, they pass out awards. Some people will be singled out for special recognition.
Thursday night, Tasha won an award for salesmanship. Her whole class deserves one for saving the day.
Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Available to speak to groups. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.