Most rummage sales don’t include Louis Vuitton handbags, Chanel jackets, or tuxedos. For decades, many churches on Chicago’s North shore have been donating expensive items to raise money for worthy causes. WGN’s Steve Sanders gives us a preview of one of the sales this weekend at Kenilworth Union Church.
For eight weeks every summer, volunteers at Kenilworth Union Church collect donations for their rummage sale. They just never know what will come in. “Very classic Chanel. So, I would call this fashion gold, really.” “We have this baby christening outfit from Marshall Fields.” “Service for 6” Associate Pastor Jo Forrest calls it; “an overwhelming transformation of the church from just a church and classrooms into a shopping extravaganza.” Karin Balsbaugh is this year’s event chair. “Everybody works so hard! When you give, you get so much more. And once they do it, they’re excited to do it.”
Many of these volunteers are veterans of the annual sale, none moreso than “The Christmas Ladies” who’ve combined to put in nearly 200 years here. “This will be Santa’s sash.” Mary Lou, Jane, Sandy, Sandy, and Joyce, have worked their way up to this assignment, through every department from sporting goods, to linens, to scarves. “Isn’t that pretty?”
Mary Lou has been rummaging for 40 years; Jane 39. “The boxes come in and we open em up and take it out and we never know what we’re going to find. Most things are $2 and $3.” Those two and three dollar donations add up to big money; almost 100-thousand dollars a year in recent years that is given to organizations that compete for the money. Church member Holly Smirl is the liaison for one of them, Chicago’s Christopher House.
“They are helping so many under-privileged families in the Chicagoland area who just need a little help getting back on their feet. They want to be self-sufficient, and the Christopher house provides them with the tools to do that.” Christopher House pre-schooler, Priscilla, tells her mother she likes to share books. “You like to share books with her friends?“
Lupe and Priscilla Raya came to Christopher House’s new school in the Belmont Cragin neighborhood about a year-and-a-half ago. “When we first came to Christopher House my daughter needed a speech pathologist because I was the only one that could understand her. Everyone understands her now.” Christopher House was part of Chicago’s settlement house movement with Jane Adams Hull House, serving Lincoln Park immigrants more than a century ago.
Today, they serve Chicago’s North and Northwest sides.
Lori Bass is the CEO. “Christopher House is a family of schools that works with children and their families to help them be successful in school in life and in the workplace.” Lupe is a student at DePaul who will graduate next year with a degree in psychology and early education.
“While I leave my daughter here in good hands, I also go into other communities where children don’t have as many resources as a child in the Christopher House does. And, I kind of feel like I do my part that way of giving back from what I receive from others who are willing to give.” Others like those at Kenilworth Union Church. “This identical jacket sold on E-Bay for $1600.” Volunteer Jennifer Burch is in charge of the really good stuff. “We can turn this into a lot of money for outreach organizations. And, that’s what personally gets me very excited about the work that we do.”
Almost anything you need or just want is here, tucked into Sunday school classrooms and the sanctuary for one day only, this Saturday. Oh, and don’t forget to stop by the church basement and say “hi” to the Christmas ladies. “We think a lot about the agencies. And we think a lot about our customers that come. If they see something and maybe they got their whole bag together and they’re short 50 cents well we say “Merry Christmas.” (laughs)”
Jane says she’ll be back next year. “I want to do it at least one more year. I want to hit 40 years like Mary Lou.” The Christmas ladies; one more reason to stop by Kenilworth Union Church this Saturday from 7-2. “And the best part of it is Saturday, when the people come in, to see the smiles on the people’s faces.”
There’s a premium pre-sale this Thursday morning with a 50-percent markup on each item. But, you get first dibs for good causes. And whether you go Thursday or Saturday, you can pick up a calendar of all 25 rummage sales on the North shore the rest of the summer. You can get even more information and share this story by clicking these links.
Producer Pam Grimes and Photojournalist Steve Scheuer contributed to this report.