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The Child & Family Agency of Southeastern Connecticut is embarking on its 60th annual sale - the largest and longest running event of its kind in New England.
Child & Family, fueled by an enormous volunteer staff, raised $50,000 for its 50th anniversary; this year, the agency hopes to raise $60,000 during its May 1-3 event, according to Lynn Fairfield-Sonn, director of the agency's development and community relations.
The sale was launched at Skipper's Dock in Noank in the spring of 1954 in a vacant building with no heat. Over the years the sale was held in vacant storefronts in New London and Groton, the gyms at the Saint Bernard School and Grasso Tech, Mitchell College, Ocean Beach and the New London Armory - a favorite site where the sale was held for many years and where it will return this year.
The sale includes clothing, jewelry furniture, household/decorative items, paintings, antiques, china, glassware, linens, small appliances, books, DVDs, toys, games and more. All proceeds benefit the agency, which has been providing services to Connecticut families for almost 200 years. Today's programs include children's healthcare and mental health, parent education, child abuse prevention, the treatment of family violence and teen pregnancy.
"While items sell well below retail value," says Fairfield-Sonn, "the money raised for Child & Family Agency helps to provide services to over 17,000 (served last year) children and their families in our communities."
Fairfield-Sonn stresses that people's collective donations and purchases make a difference every year, "but in times of economic turmoil (this) support is crucial, helping to stabilize some very crucial lives."
The three women chairing this year's event have put their hearts and souls and endless amounts of energy into it for many years: Mary Dangremond of Old Lyme (26 years); Amanda Rutledge, also of Old Lyme (23 years); and Ellie Krusewski of Mystic (30 years).
"If you had to describe it in a few words, one of the biggest ones is 'fun' because we really have a good time," says Rutledge, referring to the three-day sale. "We grouse a little bit. It's the hardest physical work. And it's dirty. We're on our feet all day and we're moving things and talking and schmoozing, and trying to be tactful, and it's exhausting, but it's a good exhaustion."
The women explain that there are many steps involved in the sale, from the initial collection of the items at the various intake sites to packing them up and unpacking, loading and unloading and setting up and dismantling the sale.
"It's a labor-intensive job for thousands of items," Rutledge says.
The women note that only quality items are accepted for the sale.
"Mary and I have done intake for many years," Rutledge says. "That's where the heart of the sale starts. We ask for items you'd wear yourself or put in your own home. If you take junk in, you're trying to sell junk and we have to be quite strict about what we accept - no dirty, torn, chewed-up, nasty things. It's stunning what some people will donate."
On the other hand, Rutledge says, "The generosity of some people, what they give us, is just amazing. We're really blessed. It's really sad but lots of times someone dies and all their clothes come to us or half of their house."
The sale has grown and transformed over the years. Referring to the first sale 60 years ago in Noank, Krusewski says, "A group of women got together and probably brought baby clothes, if you think about it. They certainly weren't bringing furniture or artwork, which we do now."
And speaking of clothes, Krusewski recalls, "Little blue blazers for boys were extremely popular 20 years ago, and now we're much more casual in our attire - things like that have changed."
Rutledge adds that there was no jewelry department years ago - only costume jewelry.
"Now we have people who donate beautiful jewelry - real gold and silver," she says.
A fun new aspect of the sale is a "moving fashion show," which was Dangremond's brainchild.
"We did this just sort of to amuse people during the sale," Dangremond says. "We would find various clothes and put them on and wander around and says things like, 'Oh, madam this coat would look lovely on you' and take it off and put it on them and sometimes they'd buy it … There's so much amazing stuff. (It's a way) to showcase it."
Because of the scope of the sale, another thing that's changed is transportation of items.
"It's (enormous) how much each auxiliary gets (in donations). We're not in pick-up trucks anymore. We're in moving vans or U-Hauls," Krusewski says.
More men also have come onboard to volunteer over the years, although young servicemen from the Groton Naval Submarine Base have been volunteering their services for some time.
"They're just these nice, sweet kids who will do anything you ask them to do," says Krusewski. "We couldn't run the sale without them - there could be 20 of them at once. They come every day. The only thing we do is feed them, which is a feat in itself!"
Men are mostly in charge of the handyman and book departments, the women say.
"Men used to be shleppers. They would help move stuff and unpack the pick-up truck, but now they're involved in all aspects of the sale," Krusewski says.
When the sale is over, Child & Family invites various charities to come and take their pick of leftover items. Whatever else is left is taken to Good Will.
"It all gets to somebody who needs it," Rutledge says.
The women point out that many people have been involved in the sale as volunteers going back to the 1980s.
"We probably have had (the same) five or six department chairs for about 30 years," Dangremond says. "That's a lot of longevity. They do it because they love it and understand how important it is to give money to Child & Family to keep it all going. It's a vast organization and they need money to keep it all working."
"Another thing about the money we raise from the sale is that when (the agency) gets grants, they're given for specific categories," Rutledge adds. "This money can be used for anything - anywhere they need it, which is a huge help to the organization."
Donation intake centers
Local donation centers will take items Child & Family Agency tag sale on the following dates:
April 21: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; St. Patrick's Church, E. Main St., Mystic
April 22: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; First Congregational Church, 2 Ferry Rd., Old Lyme
April 23: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Saint Matthias Church, 371 Chesterfield Rd., East Lyme
April 23: 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Essex Town Hall, 29 West Ave., Essex
April 24: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; City of Groton Municipal Building, 295 Meriden St., Groton
April 26: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; New London Armory, 249 Bayonet St., New London
Watch a video about the 60th Child & Family Agency sale by Brenda Huffman Floyd here.
What: 60th Annual Child & Family Agency Sale
Where: New London Armory, 249 Bayonet St., New London
When: May 1, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.; May 2, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.; May 3, 9 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Also: The Tangerine Trio - Chad Floyd- drums, Ed Birch- keyboard, Jim Goodwin- bass - will perform May 3, 11 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Food will be available for purchase throughout sale.