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Vandergrift church rummage sale has long history

| Sunday, April 27, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

For those behind the Vandergrift Presbyterian Church's rummage sale, the long-running fundraiser is about more than bargains.

“We have fun,” says volunteer Rose Stevenson. “It's good fellowship, but hard work.”

And it's work that has been going on for, by some estimates, 60 years. Others involved with the sale can say with some certainty that the church has held the event for 45 years. The sale happens twice a year, in the spring and in the fall.

The sale is organized by the church's Presbyterian Women's group, which takes the money raised and uses it for church projects and missions and to support community causes, like the Vandergrift Public Library and the borough's volunteer fire department.

Although its actual starting point may have faded into history, there's no doubt that, when the sale comes around again later this week, customers likely will be lining up at the door. The sale runs from 8 to 11:30 a.m. and noon to 3 p.m. May 2 at Vandergrift Presbyterian Church at Columbia and Washington avenues.

“They look forward to it every year,” Stevenson says of the sale's loyal customers, who come out for deals in droves. Most of the items, which are donated by church members and the community, are priced at no more than $3.

“It appeals to people that like to shop for a bargain and people that don't have a lot of money to spend,” says Ruth Martin, a sale organizer and moderator of the women's group.

After at least five decades of experience, the group has the rummage-sale system down pat.

The sale consumes the church basement.

“We put all of our tables up. We must have four rows of three long tables in the front room and the same in the back room, with larger things on the floor,” Stevenson says. “The whole basement is covered with merchandise. It's all sorted — women's clothing, shoes, children's clothing then men's clothes in the back then all the kitchen items, domestic wares and books.”

Martin says the sale is “like a yard sale, only 10 times bigger.”

With more than 100 rummage sales under their belts, the women's group has learned that consistency is key.

“Every year, it's the same layout,” Martin says. “So it's kind of like a store, if you've been there before, you can go to the place you're interested in.”

And that formula resonates with those at the church.

“As Presbyterians, we don't change things; we like things to stay the same,” Martin says with a laugh.

At every sale, the dozen or so volunteers from the women's group break for lunch. They shut the doors for a half-hour. Together, they share meals in potluck fashion

and the simple pleasure of longtime friendship.

“The fellowship, that's what we really enjoy, with the hard work,” Stevenson says.

The sale may last for only one day, but women's group volunteers put in two days' effort before that. The Sunday before the sale, the men of the church help, setting up the many tables that display the rummage-sale wares.

After lunch, the sale begins again at noon and lasts until 3 p.m. The second half of the sale is a bag sale, a boon for bargain hunters.

“We do real well with that, because they can buy two or three bags. And we let them overflow,” Stevenson says. “A lot of people wait for that. They'll come in and scout around and come back when the bag sale starts.”

But, Martin says, there's always a chance that someone may buy what you wanted, so cunning customers will try to stash their finds in out-of-the way places.

Anything left at the end of the day goes to the Apollo St. Vincent de Paul store, and the circle of sales goes on, much like the women's group fundraiser itself.

“Every spring, (members) say, ‘I'm exhausted, I'm never going to do this again,'” Martin says. “But fall rolls around, and it just keeps going. It's like a juggernaut. It's just a self-propelled event, and it just keeps going.”

Julie E. Martin is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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