Friends have made charity tag sale a lifetime commitment
She's one of the grande dames of the Child & Family Agency's annual tag sale extravaganza.
Terry Pfeil of Waterford, who will celebrate her 100th birthday in August, missed the agency's inaugural fundraiser in Noank in 1954, but began a long stint of volunteering for the agency's premiere fundraising event a year later.
She's one of a league of women and a growing number of men who over the decades have volunteered their time, talent, muscle and gently used clothing, china, glassware, toys, books, furniture, small appliances and anything else they're willing to give up to the annual sale that benefits Child & Family Agency's mission of promoting the well-being and development of children and families.
This year's three-day sale will be held Thursday through Saturday at the New London Armory.
Billed as "the largest and longest running event of its kind in New England," the 2014 sale is expected to net $60,000, with virtually every dollar earned a result of donated items and sweat equity from volunteers.
People like Dorothy Frew of Mystic, who has been working the sale since 1956 or 1957 when she was recruited by her sister and brother-in-law who worked in the furniture section for decades. Almost 60 years later, Frew is still handling furniture sales at the tag sale.
And her daughter, Lisa, who lives in Maine now, will leave her home at 5 a.m. Thursday to drive down to work the three-day sale with her mother.
At a recent gathering of some of the tag sale's grande dames - women well into their 80s and 90s - the ladies shared stories of collecting, sorting, pricing and displaying merchandise over the years. They recalled the generosity of donors, the determination of shoppers, and the deals and bargains that can be had at the tag sale.
Frew showed off an ornate gold robe - almost like an emperor's overcoat - that she bought for $10 at the sale in the mid-1980s.
"I've never worn it, but it has been in two high school plays," she said. "I have no use for it, but I had to have it, it was such a good deal."
The gown resides in a closet at Frew's home.
And then there were the friends who visited from Michigan and shopped the sale.
"That was probably 1983 or '84," she said, "and there were four of them in a big car."
Her friends bought all kinds of things and when it came time to leave and they couldn't fit anything else in the vehicle, the driver told a passenger who had bought a lamp shade that she would have to wear it on her head. And she did.
Claudia Nielsen, 94, remembered the blue tulle dress she got for $4 at the sale years ago and wore to an event for the king and queen of Denmark at the Waldorf Astoria.
When anyone admired her dress that evening, she boasted about where she bought it and the deal she got.
"My husband, he told me to stop telling people," she said.
Volunteers do not get first dibs and like everyone else at the sale pay 125 percent of the price on Day 1. If an item is marked $10, it sells for $12.50 the first day. On Day 2, the price is 100 percent, and on the final day, bargain shoppers come in hordes when prices on most items are cut in half.
This year there will be at least two mink jackets, fine china, designer and everyday clothes, prom gowns, housewares, tools, board games, books, linens, lamps, golf clubs and much more.
There's always clothing, shoes, jewelry, furniture, baby paraphernalia, sporting equipment - one year there was even a sailboat - but without the volunteers, the sale wouldn't be possible.
Last week, some of the "newer" volunteers, women who have worked the tag sale only 20 or 30 years, manned six separate intake centers (one in every town where there is a Child & Family auxiliary) to collect goods for the 2014 sale. Like a well-run assembly line, they greeted contributors curbside, helped to lug in boxes and bags of merchandise, and then set about organizing it. Clothing was separated by gender and size. Some was neatly folded and some went on hangers. Some volunteers even took items home to launder, mend or iron before the sale.
Toys and games went on one table, books on another, handyman-type items someplace else. Everything had a place and most would eventually be boxed for a truck that would arrive later to transport it to the armory.
Rogovin Moving & Storage Co. of New London has been a huge help in recent years - the original volunteers made multiple trips in their station wagons - as well as cadets from the Coast Guard Academy and personnel from the Naval Submarine Base in Groton. And then there are the brigades of volunteers, hundreds of them who come back every year to help on the sale.
Some, like Evelyn "Lefty" MacDougall, who will turn 99 in May, are "auxiliary angels" now - more likely to write a check for the cause than to sort donations, lift boxes or work the sale. MacDougall, like Nielsen, worked the first sale in 1954 and many more in ensuing years.
"I'll do it until I can no longer walk," said Julia Stone of Mystic, who is known as "the linen lady" because she oversees linen sales with the help of a half dozen dedicated volunteers.
Stone explains she's a "newcomer," having been involved in the sale for only 20 years.
"I like seeing people and making friendships," she said, explaining she appreciates the sincerity of all of those who volunteer to make the tag sale a big success year after year.
If you go
What: 60th Annual Child & Family Agency Sale
Where: New London Armory, 249 Bayonet St.
When: Thursday and Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Pricing: On Thursday, everything is 125 percent of the marked price; on Friday it is 100 percent; and on Saturday prices on most items are reduced 50 percent.
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