May 2, 2012

I Didn't Sign Up For This

Here is a recurring life problem I have not yet figured out how to handle: If you sign up to do something, but then you get the response last-minute and/or for something other than you thought you were agreeing to, but at this point backing out will cause other people some level of hassle---how do you deal with it gracefully? And by "gracefully" I mean "So that they fully realize it's their fault, not yours?"

Like, let's say several weeks ago you filled out a form saying you'd be happy to contribute an item to the Teacher Appreciation brunch, which the form doesn't give a date for. The form says someone will contact you to arrange what you'd like to bring. But then the first you hear back, it's "Great! Can you bring peeled, sliced, hard-boiled eggs and washed cut-up cauliflower for 45 people tomorrow morning? On trays, thanks!" And YOU'D been thinking that when you were contacted to see what you'd like to contribute, you'd say muffins; and you have no idea how much egg and cauliflower would be enough for 45 people, and you've never bought cauliflower in your life, and you can never get hard-boiled eggs to peel right, and you would have to drop today's plans to meet this request? WHAT DO YOU DO?

What I did was reply that I was sorry but I wouldn't be able to do that by the next day. I didn't give excuses or explanations, or get into what I would have chosen to contribute or how I felt about peeling eggs, I just said I wouldn't be able to---though I think "by tomorrow" implies the basic reason. And then I agitated and suffered, because I'm imagining that the person who contacted me will see this as "bailing," or wonder why I would sign up to do something I couldn't do. So I've been having all these imaginary conversations with that person, where I explain that the form didn't indicate that I'd just be ASSIGNED something, and also that I don't think one day's notice is reasonable, and also that hard-boiled eggs AND cut-up cauliflower seems like a lot to assign to just one person, and also that maybe it would be better to say how much food (e.g., "a dozen hard-boiled eggs and a head of cauliflower") rather than how many people, since probably MOST people aren't familiar with catering-type estimating, and also we don't know how many other foods are going to be there. ---Like that, but on and on because the other person is completely in my head so I get to deal with an endless stream of their imaginary unfair objections, accusations, and assumptions.

Anyway. It's the sort of thing I don't run into ALL that often, but nevertheless regularly over the years. When it happens repeatedly from the same source, I know to just stop signing up for things, or to clarify a few things at sign-up time. I stopped doing a writing job because it happened so consistently: they'd ask if I was interested in writing on a topic; I'd respond yes; and then I'd hear back three weeks later that they'd need a draft the next morning, thanks! I felt like I had SAID yes so now I needed to follow through---but that I WOULDN'T have said yes to THIS.

The problem is that it's usually less consistent/predictable than that, and it's usually coming from many separate sources---and/or else it's something I don't WANT to get out of, like contributing things to the kids' schools.

I guess the answer in general is that it would be a good idea to make some clarifying comments at sign-up time. For example, on school forms I could check the box saying I'll donate something, but then ignore the part about choosing something later and instead write "I can bring a dozen muffins" or whatever. That doesn't solve the problem of if they then contact me the night before (although I guess I could add something like "I'd need a couple days' notice") or if something else happens that I didn't realize would be an issue I'd need to anticipate---but thinking over the issues I run into most often, it seems like it would significantly reduce the problem.

55 comments:

cakeburnette said...

I think you handled it PERFECTLY, and agree that it might make you feel better (and give the organizers ample notice) if you let them know ahead of time what you are willing to bring and that you need some lead time.

Although, as a previously frequent organizer of this type of stuff--WHO DOESN'T HAVE A SIGN-UP LIST and WHO WAITS UNTIL THE NIGHT BEFORE TO LINE EVERYTHING UP??? My type-A personality wants to know what everyone is bringing a WEEK before the said event, just in case someone gets sick or gets and emergency out-of-town request and I have to fill in for that person. Good grief.

Amanda said...

YES! I'm sure we all run into this, including the conversations in our heads.

I think you came up with some great solutions. It's just not easy and 1 day notice is ridiculous!

d e v a n said...

It is absurd that they would expect you to be able to do that by the next day! How ridiculous!

MonkeyBusiness said...

Who the frick would expect something like this of someone by the next day. I think you handled it well at any rate! So ODD. Lacking the decency to give people time to plan is just inconsiderate. Something to watch out for when my kid gets to school age, I guess!

Kristin said...

"Failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part." I think you did just fine. A day's notice is completely unreasonable.

Jenny said...

If I had to contact someone to bring anything at all the very next day, including something they could just pick up at the store on their way, like a gallon of milk, I would be in an agony of embarrassment. I would be so, so apologetic. Like, "Please forgive me for asking at such short notice, I never do this, ordinarily I'd have contacted you last week, but my other people fell through and you are always so wonderfully reliable, do you think..." Let ALONE something that requires so much ridiculous prep. Forget it. These people are LUNATICS. Hard-boiled, washed, cut-up, peeled, sliced LUNATICS.

Gina said...

I think you said all you needed to say. It's ridiculous for them to expect not only that amount of food, but in that insanely short time frame. Our school pulls this crap and it makes me insane - I get very tired of the assumption that someone is always available to drop everything and do their bidding.

Life of a Doctor's Wife said...

I agree that you handled it perfectly, and throwing in "by tomorrow" is enough of an explanation. I do imagine the poor idiot who expected it would be REASONABLE to ask for those things on such SHORT NOTICE to feel panicky and "what's the big deal?" but that is HER problem and not yours. I suspect that you weren't the only one who was unable to drop everything and rush to assemble a large amount of multiple items for the next day... and that those who COULD ended up bringing more or less food than needed (exactly what is 45 people's worth of cauliflower?) and hopefully that will suggest to the organizer to do things DIFFERENTLY in the future.

Of course that is wishful thinking. It will be done exactly the same way next time.

I like your idea of writing a little note on the sign up - and even adding a friendly little reference to the "mix up last time" so that you are clear about what you can do and what the deadline is.

anislandmom said...

Wow, just wow. Let's assume each person eats two halves, one egg, each, for 45 people that's FOUR DOZEN EGGS! Then you add in the cauliflower, which I would get two heads (and that's only because I like cauliflower and would eat quite a bit).

My mom is a teach and I know the "lead parent" who organizes the Teacher Appreciation week works on it for WEEKS. She has everything planned and has contacted parents way in advance. A lot of parents in my area own restaurants so they lead parent is able to get a lot of the food catered in. Yesterday they had lunch from Carrabba's, today it's a "snack attack" type buffet.

I think you handled it perfectly, assuming a person will have the time to drop everything they are doing and prepare that much food in little less than 24 hour notice is INSANE.

shannon said...

I haven't even finished reading this because I need to comment on the snack items being hard boiled eggs and cauliflower. Good God, what's for dessert?

Jen said...

Asking someone to bring something the very next day is simply rude. And it's sort poor planning to not have people sign up for what they need in the first place. I get emails from the school asking for assistance for teacher appreciation week but nothing saying specifically what it needed. Do they need your time, money, what???

Anonymous said...

I think you handled it just fine. I'm a last minut type person anyway, so if I was thinking "I'll bring muffins" I probably wouldn't have arranged to have (buy or make) the muffins until the day before, anyway. I think in the scenario you describe I probably would have bought a couple of those big bags of boiled, peeled eggs that they have at trader joes along with a head of cauliflower and sliced it all up. Even 45 people won't eat very much raw cauliflower, right? I generally do things last minute, though, so it wouldn't have bothered me. But you did what made sense for you which seems fine to me. Who cares what they think?

karen l said...

You handled it well - no way should you feel guilty. Just a word from an experienced pto/pta mom - don't give too many helpful suggestions on the form next year or they'll ask you to coordinate!

Melospiza said...

Good grief. Am I remembering deep into the dim dark past where it was your kids' school that had the teacher-gift-by-fiat issue ("We've decided we're all going to give Mrs. Bindergarten an end-of-school gift. Please send $50 in an envelope with your child tomorrow. No, we get to decide what to buy. No, you don't have a choice.") Or maybe you just counseled someone who had that problem (Answer: "Um, hell to the no.") Anyway, this seems like a variation on the same problem, which is inadequate ability on the part of the planners to communicate effectively. Not your problem, in other words. And frankly I think that notating that sign-up sheet is the only thing that will work to change (and it might not work that well, because the planners for next year might not be the planner for this year.) But it's worth a shot. Plus then you can feel less anxiety ridden when you STILL get the request for 42 boiled eggs and cauliflower bits by tomorrow morning, THX. That base, she is covered.

Kara said...

I'd be the super classy Mom who, if assigned hard boiled eggs for 45 (wtf?) would show up with two jars of pickled hard boiled eggs. You know, like the kind you can find in super awesome classy bars during happy hour. Because that's how I roll. On the plus side, I'd never be assigned an edible again.

andreaunplugged said...

As a bit of an over-thinker myself, I probably would have said the same thing you did but maybe asked if there was something less labor intensive I could bring, like drinks or ice.

Nowheymama said...

I am the class parent for one of my children this year, and the teacher stresses me the heck out by not getting me the names of who signed up till about a week before an event. The day I get the list, I spend the afternoon in a PANIC calling everyone on the list and apologizing for just giving a week's notice. Calling people the night before would kill me.

Aimee @ Smiling Mama said...

There's a saying something along the lines of, "Your lack of planning does not equal my emergency." I'd say that applies pretty well here!

Elizabeth said...

You handled it perfectly. Absolutely correctly.
Also, anyone who would ask you to do such a thing with no notice is such a tremendous dillhole that no matter how you phrased your refusal, they wouldn't get it. So at that point, I think it's ok not to worry about how to let them know it's THEM and not you - they'll never get it, so just worry about removing your involvement, which is the only part you can control anyway, you know?

Josefina said...

I also think you handled it perfectly. I can't imagine contacting someone the night before and expecting them to bring so much labor-intensive food. I have organized several things like this, and I think it's very unrealistic to ask one person to bring so much, and certainly not at such short notice. Also, I second Jen: cauliflower and eggs? I hope they're going directly home afterwards.

Ginny said...

I agree that you handled it pretty well. In a situation like that, I also wouldn't worry too much about making it clear that it's their fault, not yours. If they have the sense God gave a goose, they already know that, and are sending out those requests cringingly hoping that someone will have the time, money, and willingness to compensate for their horrible planning. (I say this as a horrible planner who's been in that position a couple of times. I don't take on coordinating roles anymore.) If they don't, then nothing you say is going to make them realize how much they screwed up, and you can only hope that when they tell the story to other people in a ranty way, they include enough details that the other people can make a private judgement.

allstarme said...

Yup, that's what I was thinking: say yes and then ask for ALL the details. This indicates to them that you have every intention of following through (this next time)and it's also sort of a jab like, hey, in the past you screwed this up so give me details so we can avoid that. This is how I deal with my kids' school, who does similar things.

Beylit said...

I am a little hung up on the idea of pre peeled boiled eggs and cauliflower as being very randomly specific food choices. I am seriously for some reason weirded out by the idea of a plate of simply peeled boiled eggs. Deviled eggs is one thing, but just peeled eggs? I don't get it.

Odd food choices aside, I think you handled it very well. I am not certain I would have been so polite, or so succinct in my response. Of course I am also the type of person who would have called them a week ago asking if they were still going to need me to do something. I hate it when people ask things of me at the last minute.

Melissa said...

I love you and all of your commenters. Boiled eggs and cauliflour is WEIRD, I like both those things but that is a WEIRD request. And I am dreading next year when my kids enter kindergarten and we start all of this nonsense.

HereWeGoAJen said...

Not only is that a ludicrous request, it is also very weird. I would have done exactly what you did. And then maybe when you next see whomever is in charge of this, you say "and I was disappointed in not being able to contribute, but a days notice for something you assign me just doesn't work for me". And you can decide whether or not to shout "OR FOR ANY REASONABLE PERSON, WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!?"

Tess said...

What I like MOST about what you did, besides not making excuses, is the part where you enncouraged the person who made the request to consider the fact that it was unreasonable ("by tomorrow").

AND! Allow me to CO-FRET, because I'm in this boat with something I volunteered for THIS FRIDAY!

I signed up and took the day off of WORK so that I could volunteer at Ava's school's Field Day on Friday. Today is WEDNESDAY and I still haven't heard anything about what I will be doing. I called the school this morning, and they transferred me to the person in charge, which of course went to VOICEMAIL, so NOW WHAT? AUGG.

And I would just bail, but Ava is EXPECTING me to be there, you know, VOLUNTEERING and she's all pumped about it and shit, AS YOU ARE in kindergarten.

What's going to happen is, no one will call me back. Then I'll have to call back TOMORROW (NOOOOOOOOOO) and go through the SAME THING.

And that's the story of how I never volunteered ever again. The End.

Lawyerish said...

I agree with everyone that you handled this perfectly. I love that you didn't even give a single excuse but the "by tomorrow" shows the other person how unreasonable they are and that it is THEIR fault you can't deliver (WTF were they going to do with that volume of hard-boiled eggs and cauliflower? were they trying to stink up the room to show the teachers appreciation?).

If guilt were eating me up inside (which it shouldn't since it was THEIR failure to plan/organize that is the problem here), I might add, "but I am happy to drop off [something store-bought and easy or that you already have on-hand]."

I also agree with saying up front what you will bring "with a couple of days notice [unlike last time.]"

Magpie said...

Gosh, move to my town where the crazy tight-asses assign recipes with admonitions like "do not change a thing; everything must taste the same". And then they print and bind a cookbook of all the recipes they've stolen off the internet. At least they give you plenty of warning.

amyunicorn said...

I think it's ridiculous that ANYONE, in this day and age, would expect someone to produce something by the next day! Honestly, this is why I never, ever sign up to volunteer or help out with things. I need time to wrap my head around things and I hate the expectations hanging over my head. I think you handled it well, and you don't need to beat yourself up over it. I'd love to hear what their response was, whether they took responsibility for the short notice or what?

lillowen said...

This happens to me from time to time with client stuff, and it has happened frequently enough that I have learned to always ask two things before I accept a job: when will you have the info I need to do the work, and what sort of turnaround are you looking for? Things don't always end up running along the established timelines, but best case scenario, I at least know what to expect and when, and worst case scenario, I can remind them that we had agreed on such-and-such a turnaround, and I will still require that amount of time to complete the project even if they get me their stuff late. (If it turns into a "this is not what I signed up for" situation, I bring out the word "scope", as in "Since this is outside of the scope of the project as we originally discussed it, I will need more time and/or more money." It is awkward to have that conversation, but it is a good way to remind them that any delays or additional expenses are not your fault.)

All of that is to say that in cases like the one you describe, I would have said, "Yes, I'd be happy to contribute something! What is the date you are going to need that something?" because then at very least you know what you'll be doing the day before, and WHEN that day before will be. Now, I don't know whether that's possible with the method of communication they're choosing for these things, and it's a pain to make that sort of important YOUR responsibility to discover, but I am usually willing to do pretty much anything to avoid conflict/fretting/angry one-sided in-head conversations.

Carolyn said...

What I'd REALLY like to know is - what on EARTH are they planning to do with hard boiled eggs and cut up cauliflower???? :)

Maggie said...

This request was just preposterous, your response was perfect. I was the room parent last year for my son's class. At the beginning of the year parents signed up for the teacher appreciation breakfast. At least 3 weeks ahead I emailed those parents to check that they were still able to help, to provide a list of suggested stuff, and asked if anyone could provide those things OR something else. To me, one day ahead and requiring a parent to bring something specific is unacceptable even if it's just store-bought stuff. I won't even touch the bizarreness of asking for hard boiled eggs and cauliflower for 45.

Brenna said...

I think your response was perfect. Mine probably would've been more along the lines of "You're shitting me, right?"

This is why I only volunteer for non-perishables now. I keep a stock of paper plates and napkins, and when I get that call the night before, I just grab a stack and throw them in a bag.

Portia said...

Ugh. What a totally unreasonable request. You were perfectly justified to refuse -- like others have said, I might have said something like "I'm sorry, I won't have time to prepare those items by tomorrow, but I'd be happy to bring ______ (muffins, drinks, anything that people like more than freakin' cauliflower and eggs. ew).

The other bizarre thing is not giving the date. Even if you had, in fact, volunteered to bring cauliflower and eggs (weird!), you might have been out of town or something this week. It's totally their fault for waiting until the last minute to get their act together. Which you know. I don't know how you could politely convey that message, though.

Elisabeth said...

Were these supposed to be toppings for a salad bar? They would be weird snacks, but reasonable salad bar toppings. Still, why wouldn't they have people sign up for specific items? And give a date? Whoever was running this sounds really, really disorganized...

liz said...

You handled it perfectly and...

This is why I only sign up for a) being the copy parent (I come in weekly and run copies for the teacher) and b) Concessions on Bingo Night.

I do NOT sign up for helping with the class parties. Nopenopenope.

Holly said...

This reminds me of a Cookie exchange party I was invited to last December. We were instructed to RSVP by such-and-such, so that we knew how many dozen cookies to make. Basically, 6 cookies per guest. At the agreed upon date, it was a total of 4 dozen cookies. Okay, fine. I purchase ingredients accordingly on my weekly shopping trip. Then the DAY before, I get notice that, nope, we'll need 7 dozen after all. WHAT? That's nearly doubling what I thought. Why are they letting people RSVP past the date??? Isn't that the whole point of a deadline? And, what am I going to do with bringing home 7 dozen cookies as well? I basically said, I'm sorry, but my sanity and my kitchen cannot handle 7 dozen cookies right now. Bah.

Bitts said...

This is why I plan to RUN THE PLACE when my oldest starts kindergarten in the fall. We moved to the area in January, so I didn't have the chance to sign up as a room mom for her preschool, and EVERYTHING the room moms set up is a TOTAL MESS. I fully intend to be The Boss Of It next year, because I cannot tolerate this kind of ineptitude in my own life, much less its effect on my daughter's education. As a former teacher and Type-A control freak, I would NEVER let something like this happen -- it would have been planned to the hilt MONTHS ago. That kind of short notice is disrespectful to the teachers, the kids, and the other parents who are willing to help. In tehse kinds of situations, however, I've found the only solution is to SEIZE THE REINS, which I plan to do. With relish.

Alice said...

i love your response, and i sincerely hope the planner person has enough self-awareness to fully absorb the unspoken admonition in it :)

Slim said...

If I knew your address, I would be sending you this:

http://www.etsy.com/listing/91634800/ceramic-box-cauliflower?ref=sr_gallery_13&ga_includes[]=tags&ga_search_query=cauliflower&ga_search_type=all&ga_view_type=gallery

Slim said...

Crap. Forgot to bitly. (Is that a verb?)

Sarah said...

Yeah, I think you handled it just right.

I mean, it's one thing if they want to assign a dish like hard boiled eggs, or cauliflour, or better yet "vegetable" or "side dish". But if they are expecting parents to cook-to-order they're going to have to give a week's notice, in my opinion. I mean, people have PLANS, for crissakes. It sounds like a volunteer organizer totally dropped the ball on this one.

Alexicographer said...

Are the eggs and cauliflower for real? Or just as an example? Because -- yikes.

Count me among those who think you handled it perfectly (though I also like @Kara's solution, and where I live those eggs are available in jars in convenience stores, also. Well heck, upon reflection, I can also buy peeled hard-boiled eggs at WholeFoods, maybe that was the solution (I'm not advocating that! $$$!).

Personally I'm mostly just making a note-to-self that when responding to such queries I should write a note -- "willing to provide muffins, will need at least 3 days advance warning." Because good grief!

Sam said...

The problem is my "in my head" response is "exactly how long ago were you hitting the bong? Maybe ten minutes ago? Because you must be high if you think anyone that is not a professional catering company can do that on 24 hours notice." But my "in real life" response would likely be stunned silence and a shocked "uh…ok." And then I freak out and ask myself all night long how I could have avoided all the peeling and slicing. (Costco sells boiled and peeled eggs in a 24 pack-in case this exact thing happens again and you have a Costco handy.)

Rini said...

In the interest of trying to think well of the people around me, I choose to assume that cases like this are just a product of the other person not knowing how to communicate through their own embarrassment. My husband teaches, and got called to supervise a UIL competition - in a subject he doesn't teach - at the last minute. The email said something along the lines of "Hi, I have this Basketweaving UIL competition that I would like you to host for me. Please show up in Boondocks Central at precisely 1:30 tomorrow and I will have the materials laid out for you. Please confirm that you will be able to complete this."

He was annoyed at the tone (not to mention the "request"), but I choose to think that what she *meant* to say was "Hi! Oh my gosh, I am soooo sorry to do this to you, but my girl canceled at the very last minute, and I know this isn't even your subject, but you did such a great job when we met last year, and so if you could maybe please just help me out with this one little thing, I would be forever grateful, please please please? Can you?"

May not be true, but it makes me happier to be breathing the same air, anyway... ;)

LoriD said...

You should have never been put in that position.... too last minute and too specific. You may have been able to pull off an "egg dish" (casserole or quiche) with short notice, but peeling eggs for 45? No way.

My kids' school does an opera production every year which has elaborate costumes and props. They're always looking for people to help with these things. I always check the 'Yes I can help' box, but add the qualifier "My talents are limited to using a glue gun and shopping for supplies". I did get asked to pick up something at a store one time (we've been at this for 6 years!)

Kalendi said...

Wow! Your response was great, and don't feel guilty! Many things are run on guilt. I was asked to help in the kitchen for a dinner at church. I said yes, but the kitchen is not my strong point. I ended up being miserable because it involved putting out food that we were out of and being yelled at when I couldn't find the food that wasn't there fast enough. When I was asked the next year I said no, not my forte (I do teach the kids for children's church). I didn't feel guilty, but I was pressured to tell her why I didn't want to. Ugh!
Good job Swistle!!

Farrell said...

People are RUDE! (not you). The night before? complicated set up? Um, No.

Nellyru said...

1.) I would definitely not have been able to pull it off because I would have spent all my time giggling and showing everyone the request like it was some sort of hilarious joke: "Look! Look what they asked for! CAULIFLOWER AND EGGS! Bwahahahaha! Can you EVEN!" And making various jokes that only the twelve and under crowd wouldn't grow tired of.

2.) I am actually very MUCH an excuse person because I want to let people know that I am not (always) an irresponsible ass and did, in fact, have a perfectly reasonable explanation for why I did or did not do something. (Admittedly, this may be because there are enough times when I do screw up that I am so relieved when it ISN'T my fault, that I am anxious to point that out.) For example, in this situation, it would be my luck that I wouldn't be able to bring said items (snicker), so I would politely decline without mentioning why to the person who sent the request. Yet it would turn out that the person who SENT the request was actually someone who took over from someone else for some other reason blah blah blah yet had been given a list of people who could bring stuff and were somehow misinformed that all the people on the list had WAY more information than they ACTUALLY had about said event, so they think I am dropping the ball and leaving them with no eggs or cauliflower. And she tells OTHER people, who then have to help her out of her pickle...then later I'm at some sort of function wondering if all these other people think I'm an irresponsible pillbox for not bringing all those eggs and cauliflower that time.

It's also possible that I don't actually make excuses out loud but wish I did because I suffer from a bit of delusional paranoia.

CARRIE said...

Well done. In addition to the ruminating, I would probably also, in my pissed-offedness, contact the PTA president or principal (somebody very important with email) and complain about how they need to give people at least a week's notice if they want parents to participate. And we all want parents to participate. I'd throw them on the guilt train too, if I'm gonna have to be on it.

nicole said...

That is frustrating. It seems at least possible that the person who made the request was given the responsibility at the last minute, or so I would like to think. It would definitely not be a situation to bring to the principal, because the whole idea is the PTA handles these things so the principal doesn't have to do so. This makes me very grateful for our PTA and all the room moms we have had so far (4 kids in elementary school) who are fairly organized and on top of things. They are all also very considerate of the fact that I still have 2 kids at home that are not great at being quiet and stuff, so they don't ask me to come to the school for a lot of things. I am first in line to bake or cook because I can do it at home and drop off, but they always give a week's notice, at least. So sorry you were asked for something so difficult and then unable to help.

Anonymous said...

I would be pissed off at the poor, last minute planning.

Kelsey said...

That would be insanely frustrating!
I think you were well within your rights to say that it wasn't going to work for you, rather than going crazy trying to do the impossible!

For our elementary school this year, I have been the PTO VP/ volunteer coordinator, which means I have had to do lots of arranging this kind of stuff. The only reasons I'm ever still asking for something the night before is when I've been sending emails for a week or more and not getting a response - and even then I'm never putting it on one person.

The thing that drives me crazy about your scenario is that you are very willing and able to help, but poor communication is frustrating your volunteer efforts. A good thing for me to keep in mind.

skiingmama said...

I have been enjoying your posts. This one is very good and I have had minor things like this happen. And have felt like I got the day before call because I am a stay at home mom that has time for last minute stuff. I have been able to say no in respectful ways but in my head for days I have ruder comments brewing.

mamashine said...

that is INSANE. There is no way I would ever EVER bring eggs. I hate them and the smell of them in my kitchen would drive me to drink.

Our PTA sends an email several weeks before something like this, with a link to a party planning site. It reminds me of evite, with the description and times, except the bulk of it is spaces to fill in. The last one was a taco bar, so there were spaces to sign up for specific ingredients, with instructions about crockpots and where to put things, and then spaces for "appropriate side dish/ dessert" and a blank to fill in what you're bringing.
About a week before they send out a reminder, thanking people who've signed up and listing what is still needed.
I LOVE IT. It's specific and detailed, AND it avoids the phone issue, which I also have. :)