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VCU project raises $120 for the SPCA 

'Butter Boat' Bears Alms for Animals

What do butter, boats and Sylvia, the Richmond SPCA spokesdog, have in common?

Ask Lana Sapozhnikov, the VCU student who thought up this wacky class-project fund-raiser; so wacky, in fact, that we just had to see it for ourselves.

In a nutshell: interior design student turns eclectic assignment into even more eclectic charity event. The assignment? Build a self-propelling boat that will bear two pounds of butter across the Canal Walk waterway. The event? Sapozhnikov's launch-for-a-good-cause last week at the walk's Virginia Street Turning Basin.

First, though: why butter? Camden Whitehead, associate professor of interior design at VCU, notes it is easy to obtain and verify weight-wise (four sticks equal one pound), and was a common cargo of bateaux plying the canal of yore.

But Sapozhnikov didn't stop at merely building her butter-bearing barge (Paws). She got sponsors (Pleasants Hardware; Manila! Manila! restaurant; The Links apartments; Glass Boat Ltd.). She got a caterer (Texaco Market Cafe) for the 2 p.m. Tuesday launch. And she got media interest (silly us).

"I do better with things when they mean something to me," she says. The project took more than 50 hours of work, but it helped that Sapozhnikov works part-time at Pleasants Hardware on Broad Street, which gave her ready access to materials and people with ideas about how to use them. The result: A Styrofoam raft with a plexiglass paddle-wheel that turns because of retracting tape measures. (It works.)

Wearing a Russian naval outfit, Commander Sapozhnikov officially launched the vessel to a bemused crowd of about 20 onlookers. Despite reportedly successful test runs, however, the first two public attempts at traversing the canal's slow-moving current proved unsatisfactory. But on the third try, with a good shove, the little butter barge scooted elegantly across to Sapozhnikov's waiting classmates and friends.

"Compared to NASA lately that's not too bad," said fiancé Steve Schmieder as he taped the event for posterity. Struggling with Sylvia's leash, Ashleigh Moody, Richmond SPCA director of annual giving, warmly accepted the $120 Sapozhnikov raised. Moody added that because until the end of the year an anonymous donor is matching donations the SPCA receives, to help it reach its $8 million goal for the purchase of a new facility, the event actually netted $240.

"This is definitely, I would say, one of the most unusual fundraising opportunities for us," he allows. "It's a lovely day to launch a
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