Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Snapshot of a Neighborhood Yard Sale

My husband John loves yard sales. I have always been more cautious – they are a lot of work, and I have wondered if they are worth the effort. But our neighborhood yard sale yesterday was a truly remarkable event, and was about so much more than buying and selling stuff.

To be accurate, it is not really a yard sale, since we don’t have yards in our neighborhood. It was more of a sidewalk sale. These sidewalk sales are found wherever there are people trying to make a few extra dollars to survive. Near our apartment, on 6th street, the sidewalks are transformed into a market every weekend – families come for the day with some things to sell, hoping to make enough to pay the rent, or feed their families.
Thus our yard sales are an appropriate place to practice redistribution, sharing the wealth of one neighborhood with another less affluent neighborhood. We also like that they are eco-friendly, and things that might have gone into a land-fill find a new life.

This particular yard sale began with my colleague Dan Shaw, whose precious wife died suddenly in October. He asked if perhaps we could use her clothes. It then turned out that Dan’s neighbor, from La Canada Presbyterian Church, had collected 300 pairs of shoes that needed to find new owners. When John found out we would receive these 300 pairs of shoes, he was ecstatic. Truly. He gets that excited about the possibilities. Seeing him so excited, I decided to join in the fun.

At 7:00 am, our team joined in and helped unload the truck of shoes. Within an hour, various people had filled up a bag of clothes and shoes to send to relatives in Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala (redistribution across borders, even better!).
My favorite part was the box of barely used children’s books – we love to see books go into the homes of the local children, and these were really nice books, of the kind that people here cannot afford to buy. We kept some of the books for our community room, to be used for our activities there or for kids to borrow.

Throughout the day, neighbors hung out together in the area of the yard sale. Two girls were able to connect with Miriam, who works at a tutoring center at a local church, and were able to go with her in the evening to a fun Christmas event on a boat in Long Beach. Other kids were able to buy shoes they really liked for $2.00.
Why do we sell the shoes instead of giving them away? Our neighbors are not homeless. They are the working poor. They have some resources, just not enough. To give the shoes away would be to turn our friends and neighbors into “charity cases.” Buying the shoes gives them choice over what to buy, and retains their dignity. It is a reciprocal exchange, they benefit, and so do those selling.

At the end, there were still plenty of shoes, and clothes. Some went to another yard sale, to support a youth ministry of a local church. Thirty pair went to the St. Francis Center, where our colleague Kathy works with the homeless as a Physician’s Assistant on Mondays. Two bags were given to a neighbor going to Mexico at Christmas. Beyond the sale itself, we wish we could convey the substance of the relationships that were nurtured and the tangible sense of love and community that has grown in our neighborhood through these kinds of events.
Thank you for your continued prayers and support.

John and Jude Tiersma Watson