Beneath the piles: the Intensive process behind the rummage sale

The annual Harcourt Parish rummage sale gives residents in and outside Gambier the chance to purchase a wide array of items that students have chosen to give away.

It’s a massive project. Two semi-trucks full of used goods, hundreds of waiting customers, more than $15,000 destined for charity and a couple weeks to set it all up. The process of organizing the annual Harcourt Parish rummage sale is just as precarious as its collection boxes. The enormous, overstuffed carboard boxes placed throughout campus during  spring finals week are bursting at the seams with goods, barely held together by their thin walls. Students may not know it, but the sale is a lot of work.

“It would get down to the wire last week,” Tammy Scott, the coordinator of this year’s sale and a Gambier resident, said of the days leading up to the sale. “It would be two days until sale and I would look around and there would be nobody here.”

Preparations start in January when members of the church get together to plan for the upcoming sale. As the end of the school year nears, collections begin. Boxes fill up with whatever students can’t store or bring with them back home: clothing, school supplies, furniture. A glass adorned with the letters of their sorority. Everything is hauled down to the Gambier Community Center gym, then sorted and checked for quality by volunteers. Community Advisors (CAs) took shifts while Parish members and the Office of Green Initiatives volunteered their time. Occasionally Scott used food to entice help. Eric Ditmars ’18, a volunteer during the collection process, spent 60 hours during senior week helping to get everything done. And that was all before summer began.

This year, the Parish spent two unsuccessful months searching for a volunteer coordinator before deciding to hire Scott, the first ever paid coordinator. While the addition of a paid position will cut into the sale’s proceeds, Rachel Kessler ’04, the priest-in-charge of the Harcourt Parish and Kenyon’s chaplain, thinks it is a necessary step.

“The universal consensus from the people who did the sale as volunteers is that it is just way, way, way too much work,” she said.

The sale wasn’t always this much of an ordeal. Kessler attributes part of the change to the continuing growth in size of the sale. “With more apartment housing on campus there was just more stuff,” she said.

The rummage sale has had plenty of time to pick up steam too. A 2014 Boston Globe article highlights similar recycling programs at other colleges, the oldest of which date back to 2011. Scott mentioned seeing a note from 1958 stating that, in that year, the rummage sale made $275. Also, according to her, the Ohio State University’s program had about 3.5 tons of goods this year. Although she doesn’t have a scale, she estimates that because of its scope Kenyon’s sale could exceed that.

Along with its growing size, the sale is also experiencing a shortage of labor. For years, the sale has relied heavily on volunteer help from the church, but as those volunteers have aged, they have become less able to perform strenuous tasks like lifting heavy objects. The majority of the parish’s younger members, according to Kessler, are involved with the College and are therefore busy come graduation and orientation time — when the sale needs the most help.

Student help has also diminished. The service pre-orientation, which in the past helped set up the sale, was terminated in 2015, and while Scott received assistance from the CAs during the collection process, there were not enough students on campus to help her during set-up. This year Scott had to pay two students to help her. Andrew Lesak ’19, a volunteer during the set-up process, came in on his birthday.

Even with the help of Kenyon’s entire football team, who traditionally helps in unloading the trucks, Scott was still working over twelve hours a day. The first time I met Scott, she was assisting two customers in wheeling a mini fridge out to their car. “Everything in every room is half off,” she said in between breaths as I stepped into the community center.

“Not many people can bear the stress that Tammy did,” Lesak said.

It’s not that there is a lack of interest in continuing the sale. Talking with Scott about the different people involved in the sale is a whirlwind of names ranging from the mayor of Gambier to the grandparents of a current Kenyon student. It’s just that there is not enough physical labor.

“If we don’t get more physical labor in some way or the other, it just won’t be able to continue. Flat out,” Scott said. She pointed out that this year, she wasn’t able to take as much furniture —  a major draw for the sale —  as usual, because she didn’t have the means to move it.

“The reality is that it is a bigger operation than what current resources exist to support it,” Kessler added.

But both Kessler and Scott feel that the sale is still worth running. According to Kessler, it is one of the largest fundraisers in Knox County. The money is split between several non-profit organizations voted on by the Parish. Popular past destinations include Interchurch Social Service and Winter Sanctuary.

Plus, whatever isn’t sold is distributed to free stores around eastern Ohio and West Virginia. The sale’s environmental sustainability has also garnered the support of the Office of Green Initiatives. On top of all that, the sale, with its cheap goods, is an important event for the area’s residents.

“There are people that depend on this sale and they’re gonna hurt if it doesn’t happen,” Scott said. “This is not a wealthy community.”

And about that note from 1958. Scott said that it was found by one longtime volunteer. While looking at it, another one of her volunteers made a wry joke. “Hopefully we’ll clear $300 this year,” he said.

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