Can a Rummage sale change the world? We think so.

Can a Rummage sale change the world? We think so.

When Katherine came to the Winnetka Congregational Church Rummage Sale, she came in style. A tall, striking woman with beautiful, dark hair, Katherine would arrive each morning to volunteer in a new, perfectly put together vintage ensemble. The perfect hat. The perfect handbag. The perfect gloves. Dressed in her finest, she would parade through the 30,000 square feet of shopping space, chatting with visitors, sharing her deep knowledge of great vintage clothing, helping folks assemble their own perfect selections.

Though Katherine is no longer with us, her memory is just one of the reasons why Rummage feels more like a family reunion than a sale. For 120 years, Rummage has been bringing families in our community together in an organized effort to do a good. For those in need. For everyone involved. And for our planet.

What started with a small group of inspired women has become a much-loved tradition. Some families, like Katherine’s, are on their third and fourth generations of Rummage volunteering. For others, shopping the sale is as much a part of their yearly rhythm as the holidays or heading back to school. And even though Rummage belongs to everyone in Chicagoland, it’s also deeply personal to our mission here at Winnetka Congregational Church. It’s one of the ways we come together and live out our desire to love others, love God, and love the planet.

It’s a tradition that means a lot to our church. And one that creates measurable good.

Over the years, Rummage has raised millions of dollars for local social service agencies in and around Chicago. The nonprofits in our network provide housing, food, financial aid, and safety for the underserved and vulnerable. These inspiring organizations and the vital work they do in our communities are why my passion for Rummage isn’t about thrift finds and collector’s items (even though first-dibs on the sale is a great volunteer perk!). Above all, I’ve been working Rummage for 22 years because I want our church to raise as much money as we can for the agencies that we support.

Agencies like Good News Partners in Rogers Park. Good News Partners is working to end homelessness and hopelessness on Chicago’s North Side by providing dignified housing that helps folks in transition not just to find shelter, but also to feel valued and seen. Each year, Good News Partners feeds thousands of meals to hundreds of people and provides warm, safe places to sleep for families in desperate need. Our Rummage crew – the folks who come every sale to help us set up and do most of the heaviest lifting – are either residents of, or employed by, Good News Partners. We truly could not do what we do without their help and inspiration. And every year, we’re able to give back to them with financial support from the sale.

But community advocacy is only part of the story.

When folks shop Rummage or volunteer to help us run it, they also help us to disrupt the habit of wasteful consumerism that threatens our planet.

Every year, 85% of the textiles we buy wind up in landfills. Here in the U.S., we throw away 12 million tons of “fast furniture” annually, and we choke our oceans with plastic household goods that won’t biodegrade for centuries. Even when we hang onto the new things we buy, producing new goods still takes a toll. For example, making one new pair of jeans requires about 2,000 gallons of water.

When we buy and sell used goods at Rummage, we do our part to stop this sort of senseless waste.

It’s important work. And it matters to us to make Rummage as waste-free and “green” as possible. That also means being creative and thoughtful with the items we can’t sell. We have established relationships with fiber and electronic recyclers who take the pieces that are too far gone to reuse or resell. We pay attention to the details. Sometimes, we’ll get a donation of clothing that’s ripped or torn but has nice buttons. So, we’ll bring those clothes to some of our older volunteers, who’ll take the buttons off and stitch them onto a card to sell to shoppers who sew.

We work hard to make sure as little as possible winds up in the trash. And in the process – we have a lot of fun!

And then, there’s also the shopping. Which, if you’re into such things, is pretty incredible.

Our century-old tradition has survived two World Wars, a Great Depression, political tumult, the Great Recession, and – most recently – a pandemic that prompted us to regroup and rearrange a bit. As every enduring institution must, Rummage has evolved in response to the times. Yet we still have room after room of treasures just waiting to be discovered and re-purposed. We have vintage and modern clothing, furniture, home goods, tools, toys, gadgets, art, collectibles – just about everything you can imagine. We have shoppers who have been coming here to look for great finds for as long as they can remember, folks who came with their parents as children or even with their grandparents, and folks who’ve just found us. No matter what – no matter how Rummage changes or how our volunteer team evolves – the shoppers ALWAYS come – some from as far away as California! If you love to shop, Rummage is where you’ll want to be this October 15th from 8:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

What makes Rummage work is all of us… working together. There’s a job for everyone! Some of our volunteers have worked with us for 50 or 60 years. Others just celebrated their first double-digit birthdays. We have volunteers who help with the physical set-up and clean-up, volunteers who sell, and volunteers who research and lend their expertise to help us price and appraise things. And we’re always looking to add new folks to the family. Right now, we could really use someone with a background in artwork to help us research and price art. We’d also love someone who knows a thing or two about postage. We received the donation of an incredible stamp collection, but we have no idea how to appraise it!

Here’s the truth: we’re always looking for more Katherines. For people who love people, love supporting a long-standing and ever-evolving tradition, love doing good for others, love our planet, or simply love the thrill of a good vintage find. Folks ready to be part of the Winnetka Congregational Church Rummage Sale by donating, volunteering, or just stopping by to shop this October 15th from 8 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Come see what’s NOT going into the landfill. Come see the incredible work our community partners are doing. Come and be part of the 120-year-old tradition that’s still making a big difference today.

And be sure to visit Katherine’s granddaughters in the Contemporary Boutique Department. They just might find you a show-stopping ensemble to call your own.

Jane Trueheart Huels is grateful to have found Winnetka Congregational Church 22 years ago, shortly after she moved here with her four children. Volunteering at church, in schools, and for non-profits around Chicago has been the perfect outlet for her passion for building connections with people from all walks of life. When she isn’t volunteering, Jane loves art museums, baseball, Shakespeare, and experimenting with new recipes. She’s an unapologetically proud grandma, and her grandkids are her favorite source of entertainment and love.