Sandie Gregory still has her faith in humankind, but her role as chief of the nonprofit yard sale program has tested it mightily.
Gregory – who has survived cancer, Lyme disease, depression and not one but two car-vs.-pedestrian accidents in which she was the pedestrian – has run the nonprofit yard sale since October 2003.
The job sounds overwhelming.
The sale happens every week, rain or snow or shine, at Fair Oaks School, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Each week, a different nonprofit group runs the sale and gets the profit.
Gregory schedules all the groups, and is the liaison between them and the town. She keeps an eye on the nonprofit area at the transfer station. She deals with the stuff that is clearly not going to sell, and sorts other items to be sold at the right time of year. She keeps the nonprofit sale room neat, helps with the arrangement of stuff – and that is nowhere near all of it. She shows notebooks that document the sales, the profits and the problems.
“It’s a lot of work,” she says, with a small smile.
THE NONPROFIT SALE was the brainchild of Fanny Esidore, who no longer lives in Montville. Gregory says Esidore was the town’s recycling administrator, and the head of an ecology club. She had the idea of plucking from the transfer station stream stuff that could be loved, used and even sold again – and do it so that nonprofit groups in town could benefit.
The club, volunteers, Lions Club members and soldiers from the USS Annapolis helped get the room in shape, and the nonprofit sales began.
Over the years, Gregory says, there have been great successes and great difficulties.
THE SUCCESSES ARE HUGE AND ONGOING. Each group can sign up for three sales a year – and it’s not unusual for the groups start clamoring to sign up for the next year before the current summer turns to fall.
Gregory schedules groups in the order in which they contact her.
“I’m turning people away now,” she says. “They’re saying, ‘Put me down for 2013.”
All the 2012 dates except for March 10 and Dec. 22 were filled long before the end of 2011. March 10 was supposed to go to the class of 2012, but as of Monday, the class had not committed.
The reason for the clamor is simple: The sales make good money for the nonprofits. In 2011, Gregory says, the economy was rocky, and sales were relatively low – about $350 per sale. In 2010, a better year, the groups raised more than $22,000, or about $400 per sale.
HERE'S HOW THE PROCESS WORKS: The people of Montville leave items at to the transfer for the nonprofit sale. The nonprofit area is off-limits to everyone except for Gregory and people working the sale.
Before the sale, the group that’s running it that week gets the key to the room, and carried everything from the nonprofit spot at the transfer station to the nonprofit room at Fair Oaks, and adds it to the items there. If the group has its own donations to add, it brings them directly to the nonprofit room.
“The more stuff they bring,” Gregory sas, “the better the profits.”
The group that’s scheduled for any given weekend sets the prices, runs the sale, collects the money and cleans up afterwards.
At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to work.
Often, Gregory says, people take stuff from the nonprofit area at the transfer station. Really great stuff seems to vanish right away, she says.
Montville Police Lt. Leonard Bunnell concurs.
“It’s been an ongoing problem for several years,” he says. “Even though the signage says ‘This (area) is for this purpose,’ it’s still the transfer station, and people drive by and pick through it.
“There have been problems with people pilfering from the drop-off point. They need to do more for the deposit area to rope it off, while still letting people have the drop-off ability.”
Bunnell also says that there’s an issue recently with people going into the transfer station at night and stealing things that are made of metal. He says he wouldn’t be surprised if some of those same people are picking up items from the nonprofit area.
THE ISSUES AREN'T LIMITED to the transfer station.
Sometimes buyers show up early at Fair Oaks, as the nonprofit groups are setting up. Often, Gregory says, these buyers are people who are there to get stuff very cheap and sell it somewhere else for a profit. While there are no rules against that, it’s irksome that these buyers show up before the nonprofit sale officially starts. So she’s set rules to keep them out.
And then there are the people who steal right from the nonprofit sale itself.
One day, she watched a man walk through the sale and fill up a yellow bag. When she looked again, he was filling up a blue bag.
“Let’s go out and look in your car,” Gregory told him. There was no yellow bag in the car. “Let’s look in the trunk,” she said.
When the trunk opened, she says, there was the yellow bag.
“I’m a veteran,” she recalls him telling her.
“That’s very honorable,” she said, “but this is stealing.”
She banned him from coming to the sale again.
ISSUES AND PROBLEMS ASIDE, the nonprofit room is a treasure trove of the funky, the fabulous, the fun – and the useful.
There are utensils and dishes. There are pans and glassware. There are mugs and trivets, books and lamps, picture frames and brick-a-brack, jewelry and decorations and baskets galore. Pretty much whatever you want is there.
And it’s cheap. And your purchase helps a nonprofit group in town.
Gregory and friends have experimented and played with the nonprofit sale. Kathy Turner has run the book room forever, Gregory says. Lynn Magee spent a lot of time helping. Patricia Dougherty, a longtime friend, used to set up what Gregory calls “vignettes,” groupings of furniture and goods that show how the stuff could look in your home.
SO IF THERE ARE PROBLEMS, if the groups don’t clean up after themselves, if there is thievery at the transfer station, if the whole thing is daunting sometimes, in the long run, Gregory says, it’s worth it.
It does good in the community, and, she says, “We’ve had a lot of fun here.”