It's one of this region's annual spring traditions: Child and Family Agency of Southeastern Connecticut's annual tag sale. This year's three-day sale kicks off Thursday at the Grasso Technical School gymnasium in Groton and runs through Saturday, April 14.
The six auxiliaries of the largest, private, non-profit children's service provider in the region have been collecting clothing, furniture, household and decorative items, books and multimedia, tools, toys and jewelry from Essex east to Mystic, Noank and Stonington since late March.
One can't talk about the history and social development of this region without referencing at least one of the four cornerstone organizations of the agency: the Female Benevolent Society of Hartford, formed in 1809, the first preventive and protective society in the state, if not the nation, to save the lives of abandoned women and children living on the streets in New London; the Bradley Street Mission for the homeless; the New London Day Nursery, formed in 1906 to care for children of working women; and the Children's Aid Society, which eventually morphed into today's CFA, a $10 million social services agency, serving children and families in need in 79 towns in New Haven, Middlesex and New London counties.
Last year, the professional staff of 172 provided services to more than 17,000 children and their families in the region. Services range from early childhood development and home-based counseling to 18 school-based health clinics, plus child care at the New London Day Nursery and Early Childhood Development Center in Groton.
All of the predecessor organizations were frugal out of necessity, dependent on donations, rummage sales and "pound parties" where supporters brought a pound of whatever was needed, food or clothing. The first tag sale was in 1954, back when the agency was known as Children's Services. It was held in an unheated Skipper's Dock in Noank.
Volunteers "struggled to deal with spaghetti straps on wire hangers and tie shoes together in pairs while our fingers turned blue with cold," according to Chevy Towers's recollections, captured in "Every Child, a Social History of Caring," written by Tom Gullotta, executive director of CFA, to commemorate the agency's 200th anniversary in 2009.
Since then, the sale has been held in April, May or June, working around the schedules and spring breaks at St. Bernard's high school, Ocean Beach, the New London Armory, Mitchell College, storefront space in Groton last year and Grasso Technical High School.
"It's a great way to build camaraderie while supporting the mission of Child and Family," said Lynn Fairfield-Sonn, the agency's new development and community relations director, following the retirement of Judy Lovelace in January. More than 600 auxiliary members are involved.
The sale also presents an opportunity for the agency's clients to get needed items at reasonable cost, keeping with its historic roots, according to Fairfield-Sonn. Unsold items will be donated to area shelters and other charitable causes.