PORTLAND, Maine -- Forget the rummage sales and pancake breakfasts. For serious fund-raising, posing in the buff for calendars seems to be the ticket.
An extraordinary number of ordinary people are shedding their clothes and posing for the pages of calendars to raise money for medical research, elderly programs - there is always a cause. Tens of thousands of the calendars have been published in the past couple of years, raising more than $1.5 million for at least 40 causes.
The latest is a group of gardening enthusiasts that hopes to raise $150,000 with a calendar of themselves - unclad.
The McLaughlin Foundation concluded that a calendar was the only viable way to raise a large amount of money to pay off the mortgage of the foundation's historic gardens and homestead in Paris, Maine.
"You don't send a man to the moon with a rummage sale," said Lee Dassler, the group's executive director, and Ms. November in the 2003 Altogether for the Garden calendar.
It showcases adults in poses with strategically placed wheelbarrows, shovels and other gardening implements.
The idea of older men and women stripping for a calendar would have seemed far-fetched, if not ludicrous, not long ago.
That was before a group of proper ladies from Rylstone, England, a hamlet of 40 houses in northern England, made a 2000 calendar of discreet nude photographs of themselves in various housewifely activities. They wanted to remind people that a little erotic fun can be appealing - regardless of age, gender or social class.
Along the way, they sold close to 100,000 calendars and raised more than $750,000 for leukemia research. They also served as an inspiration for others, including a growing number in the United States.
In Vermont, the 2002 Men of Maple Corner calendar - featuring men ages 60 to 78 in various stages of undress - raised more than $500,000, far surpassing the modest goal of $30,000 for improvements to the local community center in Calais, Vt. Proceeds from the 2003 calendar will benefit at least 11 nonprofit groups.
In New Hampshire, women from the town of Tamworth, population 2,200, raised more than $75,000 for 25 local organizations with their 2002 Women of Tamworth calendar. The 2003 sequel, Tamworth Men in Hats, features men fishing, playing the banjo, hunting and in other activities wearing nothing but hats.
In Vail, Colo., firefighters, chefs, extreme skiers and others teamed up to produce the Vail Undressed calendar and netted more than $30,000 to aid people in a financial crunch because of a medical crisis.
In Aiken, S.C., the Still Magnolias calendar raised nearly $180,000 for the Aiken Area Council on Aging. The calendar features photos of women ages 60 to 84 golfing, knitting, playing the piano.
"We've done the dances, bake sales, rummage sales," said Becky Robbins, one of the calendar organizers. "We were so excited because instead of making $2,000, we had a chance to make $160,000 or $170,000."
In England, groups of fox hunters, cricket players, farmers, rugby players and even butchers have published nude calendars for worthy causes, said Moyra Livesey, who is Miss May in the Ladies of Rylstone calendar. She isn't surprised that it has caught on in America.
"People in the U.S. are just as silly as people over here," the 54-year-old Livesey said from England.
The words "naked" and "calendar" used to conjure up images of Playboy pinups.
The new calendars, which show more wrinkles than curves, are the antithesis of glossy calendars with professional models, and that's precisely why they've become such a hit, said Bob Morton, chairman of the Naturist Education Foundation, a group that promotes nudism.
"What sells it is that it's everyday people," said Morton, whose group is based in Oshkosh, Wis. "You might open up one of these calendars and say, 'Wow, there's Paul. I didn't know he had a mole there."'
The calendars may seem innocuous, but they've still created a stir in some places.
In South Carolina, people wrote letters to newspapers criticizing the Still Magnolias calendar and suggesting that the women who posed for it could have found a "more Christian way" to raise money.
In Maine, Paris police went to the horticulture center after the photo shoot to make sure no laws were broken.
Morton says those people need to loosen up.
"They don't look like they're tortured or having sex," he said. "It looks to me like they're having a good time."
That certainly seemed to be the case in far eastern Maine, where a group of wool spinners produced a 2003 calendar to finance a trip to Ireland and to fund breast cancer research.
The Wearing Wool calendar, which celebrates the "ancient art of spinning and the ageless beauty of women," features 20 women between the ages of 33 and 70 who are part of a wool-spinning group. The calendar is in its second printing.
"There are tons of dog calendars and cat calendars and truck calendars, so why not?" said Donna Kausen of Addison, who is wearing only a pair of boots as she shears a sheep in the calendar. "There's no doubt it's a wonderful fund-raiser, and it's fun for the community."
On the Net:
Altogether for the Garden: http://www.mclaughlingarden.org
Still Magnolias: http://www.stillmagnolias.org
Women of Tamworth: http://www.womenoftamworth.org
Men of Maple Corner: http://www.maplecorner.net
Wearing Wool: Celebrating the Ancient Art of Spinning and the Ageless Beauty of Women: http://www.wearingwool.com
Vail Undressed: http://www.vvcf.net
Ladies of Rylstone: http://www.grassington.co.uk/newpages/wicalendar.html