Local Churches a Vital Part of the Community Beyond Worship

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by Maria Ann Roglieri

Local churches serve as meaningful houses of worship to many residents. They also serve as a wonderful resource to everyone in the community in that they bring people together for fun and charity.

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St. Barnabas parishioner Susan Brennan at her selling post. —Photo by Maria Ann Roglieri

Every spring and fall there are signs for church sales all over Westchester. Many enjoy frequenting the sales, finding “treasures”— an antique maple dresser for $50, a brand-new Vineyard vines sweater for $5. The thrill of the hunt and the camaraderie of fellow bargain hunters brings pleasure and shoppers return year after year. But a look behind the scenes of these church sales revealed many of the volunteers are able to raise a great deal of money to give to local charities and to support their churches.

This May, St. Barnabas Church in Irvington hosted its spring Thrift Sale, a sale which it has been hosting for 50 years. The sale lasted two days and offered everything from furniture to sporting goods to baby toys to clothing. The long lines started early as people wanted to snag the best stuff quickly. The crowd was mixed and, for a day, egalitarian — antique dealers, local residents, and even newly arrived immigrants all delighting in the quality of goods found at low prices. The sale actually represented the culmination of a long week with 50 to 60 parishioners working nonstop to sort clothing and goods, to price everything, and generally to set up the sale. Many took days off from their regular jobs to help out; others came to help after they finished their workday. Still others worked full-time at the sale itself for two days.

As if the Thrift Sale was not enough, the parishioners of St. Barnabas also put on a Vintage Clothing Sale in the summer and a one-week Clothing Sale in the fall. According to the current co-chairs of these other sales, Linda Pierpont Staropoli and Cathy Hansen, there is a good deal of money to be made by selling upscale clothing, in a consignment-style sale. These sales offer designer clothing for more than your average $4 thrift sale price. The customers get a great deal, and the church is able to donate even more money to worthy causes. Plus, remarked Staropoli, “This is the ultimate recycling project: people who no longer need/want their clothes are able to donate them to the sale, hundreds of people attend the sales and purchase the clothes, and in the end, very little clothing is thrown away — just about everything is saved and reused. And the money raised goes to great outreach efforts.”

Indeed, the leftover clothing gets distributed to those in need, locally and internationally. Some of the clothes are donated to a church in Yonkers, others are given to the Vietnam Vets to distribute to people in our community. Parishioners are proud to tell stories of being able to give kids their first pair of shoes or coat through the program. The rest of the clothing gets sent overseas — it gets picked up by MOM (Medical Outreach Mission) and is shipped in containers donated by St. Barnabas to various places such as Dominica.

Some of the money made from the spring sale goes toward upkeep of the church; the rest of the money made during the year from the sales goes to charity. And the money that the St. Barnabas Church volunteers are able to donate annually is no small change — it is typically in excess of $60,000. A rotating grant committee of parishioners determines which charities will receive donations in any given year. Parishioners who are involved in charities themselves may submit an application on behalf of the charity, and charities may submit an application themselves. Among the charities receiving donations from the committee is the West Refugee Task Force. With the grant from the church, the Task Force was able to purchase furnishings for a refugee family that was settling in Connecticut. Other charities that recently received money from St. Barnabas sales include the Bereavement Center of Westchester; the Burke Medical Research Institute of White Plains (which used the money toward the development of a suicide prevention app), the South Presbyterian Church Food Pantry in Dobbs Ferry, Family Services of Yonkers (which used the money to fund a kinship support program work the grandparents raise the grandchildren), the Kids Club of Tarrytown (which used the grant to help fund afterschool mentorship), the San Andres Episcopal Church in Yonkers (which used the money to pay teacher salaries for the afterschool program).

The St. Barnabas Thrift Sale is one of the largest in Westchester but not the only one. Other annual sales include the Briarcliff Congregational Church Rummage Sale, the Christ Church sale in Tarrytown, the Irvington Presbyterian Church sale in Irvington, and the Union Church of Pocantico Hills sale in Tarrytown. The model is by and large the same: an army of volunteers working for days to take in and organize donations; a multiple-day sale; followed by post-sale direct donations of leftover goods to local charities.

Most of these parishes use the money raised for two purposes: to help maintain the churches themselves, and to donate to a wide variety of charities, particularly local ones. The need to raise money to maintain the churches is obvious. Take for instance the Union Church of Pocantico Hills in Tarrytown, a gorgeous church with spectacular Matisse and Chagall stained-glass windows. The church has successfully been offsetting costs by running a bi-annual sale for 40 years (15 years in its current large scale). One church, the Irvington Presbyterian Church in Irvington (through the efforts of the Presbyterian Women’s Group), however, donates all of the proceeds exclusively to charity. Last year the parish donated $50,000 to a myriad of national charities and local charities which included Children’s Village of Dobbs Ferry, the Ambulance Corps of Dobbs Ferry, Tarrytown, and Irvington, the Community Food Pantry of Tarrytown, Family Services of Westchester, Elizabeth Mascia Childcare Center, and the Food Pantry of the South Presbyterian Church in Dobbs Ferry. Parishioners on the Christian Education Committee of the church even involve the kids in Sunday school in charitable giving by holding their own Kids Advent Fair and helping the kids to decide where to donate the proceeds.

The Scarborough Presbyterian Church sale in Briarcliff is another example of a sale that has been going on for decades and serves a double purpose. Like the parish at St. Barnabas, the parish at Scarborough Presbyterian determines to which local charities it will donate through a Mission Committee. Some of the local charities they have been able to donate to with the proceeds from the sale include: Open Door Family Medical Center (Ossining), The Food Pantry of Ossining, the Thanksgiving Dinner for the homeless held at the First Presbyterian Church in Ossining; Midnight Run (county-wide), and a new (nameless) organization in Ossining that houses the homeless on cold winter nights when Scarborough provides food. At the sale, you can find great clothes, linens, sporting equipment, etc. Clothing and goods that are left over from the Scarborough Presbyterian Church sale are donated to the Boys and Girls Club of Westchester and to the Career Closet of the Briarcliff Congregational Church.

The parishioners of the Scarborough Church are excited by the opportunity to raise money for charity, and they are also very excited to bring the community onto church grounds. They run a fabulous bake sale and enjoy watching everyone’s excitement and merriment. Connie Curran, one of the parishioners who helps run the sale, commented, “The sale is a lot of work but also a lot of fun. We have gotten to know our regular customers and we have succeeded in our main goals which are to enable people to have some things they wouldn’t ordinarily have and to give to charity.”

Another way some churches use clothing to help people in our local communities is by running “clothing” or “career” closets throughout the year. Briarcliff Congregational Church’s Career Closet is an essential resource for women in need who are trying to find jobs. Women are referred to the Career Closet by various agencies and they may go on a Saturday morning (by appointment) to be outfitted in business attire by volunteers. A similar service is offered by Tarrytown’s Christ Church Clothing Closet, which sells clothing at a minimal price to local residents who need them, once a month, year-round in the basement of the church. The clothes are provided through donations and are organized for sale by members of both the San Marcos and the Christ Church communities. The Clothing Closet sale is well-coordinated with the Community Food Pantry also housed in the church, so that the food pantry is open one Thursday a month, and the Clothing Closet is opened Friday and Saturday of that same weekend.

The parishioners of Tarrytown’s Christ Church also put on a Fall Fair every October to raise money for the upkeep of the church and run multiple entertainment-based fundraising events for charity through the year. In the winter they hold a chili cook-off during Lent featuring a steel passion band, and then in the spring, a silent auction. A large portion of the money raised from both of these events goes to both international international human rights and aid organizations (such as Cristosal) and local charities such as the Community Food Pantry.

Still more community fun is to be had at the Immaculate Conception Church’s Annual Bazaar in Sleepy Hollow. This bazaar has been a favorite of residents, particularly kids, for over 40 years. No clothes are sold, but Italian sausages, hotdogs, hamburgers, and games of chance provide many nights of entertainment for the kids. Local residents donate meals, and parishioners run the event. Sleepy Hollow High School kids help set up the tents as part of their community service. The bazaar serves two functions: it gets the community involved in the church and it raises money to support the church, which operates on a bare-bones budget. N.B.: This year the annual bazaar will be held in June instead of in September: June 11-12, 17-18-19.

You can help the churches in their community outreach efforts by going to the church sales and bazaars and/or donating to the sales. Here is a list of the when, where, and how of some of the sales in our immediate area:

Fall: Irvington Presbyterian Church in Irvington (September). Donations are taken all summer; Christ Church in Tarrytown (October); Union Church of Pocantico Hills in Tarrytown (October). They take donations all year long from parishioners and people all over. To donate call (914) 631-2069; St. Barnabas Church in Irvington (November). Upscale clothing sale donations are received year-round. Contact the church (914) 591-8194.

Spring: Briarcliff Congregational Church in Briarcliff (April); St. Barnabas Church in Irvington (May). Donations taken year-round (see above); Union Church of Pocantico Hills in Tarrytown (May) See above for donation information; Scarborough Presbyterian Church Sale in Briarcliff (June). Donations taken one week before the sale; Immaculate Conception Church in Tarrytown Annual Bazaar (June).

Summer: St. Barnabas Church in Irvington vintage clothing sale (July).

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