Breaking Down Barriers and Serving Together: A Winnetka Congregational Church Rummage Story

Breaking Down Barriers and Serving Together: A Winnetka Congregational Church Rummage Story

First held in 1902, the Winnetka Congregational Church Rummage Sale was initiated by a group of determined and inspired women who felt called to give what they had to help care for people outside the walls of the church building. The sale welcomes volunteers and shoppers from both the congregation and the surrounding community. Through the years, the church Rummage Sale has become a Winnetka tradition, raising millions of dollars to benefit numerous social service agencies in the Chicago area, which provide prevention, crisis and recovery services to underserved people.

On October 13, 2022, Rummage was blessed by volunteers from Saint Leonard’s Ministries who helped to set up for the Fall Sale on October 15, 2022. Saint Leonard’s empowers formerly incarcerated men and women to lead whole and productive lives. Saint Leonard’s has made it a mission to reach out to churches in the Chicagoland area to help with various rummage sales, as a way for program participants to get out in the community and engage with people.

“We want our men and women to get out into the community and get re-acclimated with society. We want people to see them as hard-working individuals and to build awareness for what we do,” said Tom Rath, Saint Leonard’s Manager of Development & Communications.

For the group of volunteers who drove up that Wednesday along Sheridan Road from the West Side of Chicago, it was an eye-popping experience. One volunteer had served 45 consecutive years in prison. Another had served 49. The drive alone was jaw dropping, exposing them to vistas they’d never laid eyes on. And, yet, as Tom described it:

“Any tension that [our Saint Leonard’s volunteers] may have had on the drive up was immediately gone when they were greeted by two of the WCC Rummage co-chairs, Jane and Eileen, and by Pastor Braun. Their graciousness and welcoming nature were incredibly impactful on our participant’s egos and self-esteem.”

The Saint Leonard’s volunteers worked side by side with WCC Rummage volunteers and WCC staff as part of the overall Rummage team. Together, they helped to prepare for the sale and then shared a meal together. It allowed everyone to join in fulfilling St. Leonard’s goal of breaking down barriers and revealing the commonality we all share.

Tom Rath went on to share how Saint Leonard’s seeks to promote the importance of treating previously incarcerated individuals as fellow humans, and how “Treating people with respect and as an equal goes a long way.”

Saint Leonard’s serves formerly incarcerated community members largely from the South and West Side of Chicago. The majority of participants identify as people of color, have multiple arrests and incarcerations, and have faced homelessness. Approximately 75% of participants come to Saint Leonard’s with substance use challenges and over 30% have mental health issues.

Returning citizens experience overwhelming challenges as they return to society. Saint Leonard’s addresses needs that were unaddressed or under-addressed in prison and provides comprehensive services to facilitate a successful return. In Illinois, the recidivism rate for men after 3 years is 49%. For women, it’s 36%. In the face of such daunting odds, Saint Leonard’s results are beyond notable. For the men who go through the Saint Leonard’s program, recidivism rate drops to 22%. For women, it falls to just 6%. Understandably, Saint Leonard’s is proud about keeping people employed, with their families, and out of the carceral system.

The heart of Saint Leonard’s lies in their five core values, which are printed on the back of every staff member’s ID badge:

      1. Everybody matters
      2. Love heals
      3. Hope motivates
      4. Respect empowers
      5. Dedication rewards

From the very first “Hellos” when the Saint Leonard’s team arrived at Rummage, the experience was mutually beneficial, which is precisely what Saint Leonard’s and Rummage both want. We all enjoyed the chance to interact and break down barriers. Rummage got some much-needed support for the Fall Sale. And one Saint Leonard volunteer even went home with something special. Tom joyfully recounted how one of the Saint Leonard’s team, Oscar, saw a soup tureen that he thought was just beautiful. In describing his new treasure, Oscar said, “I don’t care if I put a can of Campbell’s soup in it!” So, Oscar got the tureen, and was super excited. Sometimes, it’s the simple pleasures in life.

WCC humbly aspires to be “A House of Worship For All People”. (In fact, those very words are engraved over the outer entrance to the sanctuary.) And, we look forward to further developing our relationship with Saint Leonard’s Ministries. To learn more about them, visit