Round and round it goes, where the meat raffle wheel stops nobody knows. But when it does, the hooting and hollering begin. Winners run up for “pick of the table” or whatever item might be up for grabs during that round.
Part gambling, part game of chance and a little bit of lottery all rolled up in one, meat raffles are big in Buffalo. Undoubtedly you’ve come into contact with at least one sponsored by a church, your kid’s school or a local civic group. They’ve become so commonplace in WNY that during the high spring and fall meat raffle months, it would be easy to find several to attend during any given weekend. Besides filling freezers, raffles help to raise money for these organizations.
There are not one but two websites dedicated solely to cataloging local meat raffles: Meatraffles.com and Wnymeatraffles.com.
Erick Hansen started Meatraffles.com in 2013 because he saw a need.
“I wanted to broaden the way folks could find meat raffles and let them know exactly what a meat raffle is about.
Many people would ask me the same things over and over. Between getting information out and explaining what the meat raffle was, I decided to start a website,” said Hansen.
Because he attends meat raffles on a regular basis, Hansen has good insight into what it takes to set up a raffle and how to make it succeed.
“The ‘How to Setup a Raffle’ page is essentially what I sent in e-mails to everyone who filled out a form on the site,” he said. “The tips and information come from attending raffles over the last 10 years. I know what works, what doesn’t, and what to do to maximize the money coming to the organization.”
For Hansen and his friends, a meat raffle is a social event.
“It is a night out with friends and family that lasts about three hours. There is food, drinks and a chance to win meat! It’s an event that is slow-paced overall, but fast-paced once the rounds and spins begin,” he said.
Hansen says his group normally has between four and 10 people. They know all the ins and outs — like the best locations that hold multiple meat raffles.
“The Matthew Glabb Post in Lackawanna holds a meat raffle two times per month or more — all for different organizations. We go because we know the venue is large and the raffle will be good. I already know that the raffle is for a non-profit of some sort. We are fine blindly supporting a charity for the chance to win a turkey!” he quipped.
And for those who don’t think they’d like a meat raffle?
“It took nearly nine months of friends bothering me before I attended. Don’t let perceived ideas about this dissuade you from attending a meat raffle or setting one up for a charity you are aligned with. These are fantastic fundraisers for all types of organizations,” he said.
Beth Devans is Home School Association President at Our Lady of Blessed Sacrament School in Depew and “Chair of the Meat Raffles.” She says OLBS has been doing meat raffles since 2012, just as they were becoming more popular.
“We do them twice a year — in the fall, geared towards the holidays, and in spring geared towards outdoor grilling,” said Devans.
This was her first year as chair.
Devans notes that a meat raffle is about six weeks of prep work, but that teamwork is what makes it run smoothly.
The recent Spring Meat Extravaganza featured 128 meat prizes.
“There are around 40 rounds. We also do mystery tokens. That lightens everything up. Everyone is given a token when they come in. It’s almost like the game show ‘Let’s Make a Deal,’” she said.
Devans said meat raffles are an easy way to raise money.
“Especially once you have done a few, they are easy to put together. People love to win meat,” said Devans. “It’s a fun night that doesn’t require a person to spend a lot. Plus, you have plenty of chances to win.”
We spoke to one local meat purveyor who wanted to remain anonymous so as not to infringe on other purveyors. (The meat world is a friendly place.)
Our Meat Man said he services about 200 meat raffles a year. A medium sized meat raffle breaks down to about 850 pounds of meat, a large one can get up to 1,500 pounds. Meat raffles happen all year long, but the height of events usually depends on when Easter falls: it’s an especially busy season during March/April, then fires up again in October through Thanksgiving.
We asked him what changes he’s seen in meat raffles over the years.
“People are doing anything and everything to put a different spin on it. It’s almost too crazy. Back in the day it would be cut and dry — hams, turkeys, roast beef and pork,” he said. “Now people are doing surf and turf combos, breakfast packs with eggs, crab legs, different cuts of steaks, pizza logs, etc. They are all customized now.”
He thinks they’re popular because they’re so profitable.
“In the prime season sometimes we do as many as 12-15 in a weekend. It beats any other fundraising. Just think about it. Do you want to sit in the cold selling candy bars or Girl Scout cookies chasing quarters? Or do you want to have a meat raffle with 300 people from your organization, have a few beers and at the end of the night your organization makes some serious dough?”
Surprisingly, the popularity of the meat raffle remains a “Buffalo thing.”
“I do business with people in Rochester and Syracuse and when I mention meat raffles, they have no clue what it is,” said our Meat Man. “It’s turned out to be another WNY staple, just like the Sahlen’s hot dog.”
Erick Hansen offers some tips, like to call ahead to reserve tickets if possible.
“It’s a little tougher to just walk up to a raffle and get in than it used to be. Pre-sale and advance tickets are the only way to ensure everyone gets in.”
“Also, try to go with a few people. Going as a couple is not a bad idea, but the larger the group, the more people who have tickets, the better chance someone in your group wins.”
Hansen also advises to bring your own beer pitcher from home. (You don’t want to be busy getting cups of draft beer while you’re trying to win meat.)
One last bit of advice from Hansen:
“Remember that it’s for charity. Even if you get skunked out, you still got a sandwich or piece of pizza, and free beer and soda.