From their origins as a swap table in the late 1960s, the “Recycle Sales” which benefit AFSC have grown through a “tangled web of connections and efforts,” according to Beth Binford. Beth, the spiritual engine behind the sales, retired from AFSC in 1994 and has been leading the effort ever since. The sales are made possible by dedicated volunteers, many of whom have been involved with the operation for more than 20 years. Beth says the sales, hosted at Gwynedd Friends Meeting in Pennsylvania and at area Quaker retirement centers, result in some $20,000 each year, with the highest total being $32,000. Over the years, more than $500,000 has been raised for AFSC programs—an impressive amount by any standard!
Volunteers host the sales one Saturday a month, coming the day before to set up and price. People who donate items for the sales are motivated by knowing their goods are sold to aid a cause they care about and by recycling items they no longer need, instead of sending them to a landfill. The offerings include clothes, jewelry, housewares, paintings, books, linens, electronics, and children’s items. The price is right—at just $1.00, except for “boutique” items that are marked a little higher. The most valuable donations are saved for the annual holiday sale in December, which has raised as much as $10,000 in one day.
Among the unusual items that have passed through volunteers’ hands are a handwritten cookbook from 1861, a fur corset, a surgeon’s scalpel, carnelian beads from the Near East (circa 4,000 BC), an armadillo’s shell shaped like a basket, and even levels for field canons—the tools of war being sold to support efforts for peace.
Beth has suggestions for any Quaker meeting, church, or other group that would like to start its own “flea market” to benefit AFSC. “Put together a strong, dedicated committee. Make a plan that will work for your situation, although we say, ‘Start small and let it grow.’” Donors and buyers can be drawn from the closest community and expand as the sales gain momentum. The members of Gwynedd Meeting who volunteer are glad for the outreach that the AFSC sales provide. Customers often ask to see the worship space and have inquired about the Quaker faith.
The volunteers clearly enjoy the experience of working on the Recycle Sales, and they appreciate the community they have built. As one long-time volunteer said, “There’s fun and camaraderie among the volunteers that makes the work go quickly. As far as we can tell, there is no downside!” Indeed, the upside is funds for the Service Committee—and a unique group of folks willing to give their time to a great project.
Lucy Duncan is Friends Liaison for AFSC and writes a blog for interested readers at www.afsc.org/friends.