Little treasures add up

By Kathryn Straniero

Grandma always kept $2,000 rolled up in the bottom of a beaded evening bag she hid at the back of her closet. Grandpa had a precious stamp collection he inherited from his grandfather, a battered old book that contained stamps from countries that don’t even exist anymore.

One man stashed a roll of cash in the back pocket of his jeans, and a woman apparently dropped her diamond wedding ring set inadvertently into a bag of used clothes meant for charitable donation. Someone stored valuable old coins, including silver dollars from the 1800s, in a dirty old plastic bag.

The little treasures ended up in the collection bins at The Sensible Shoppe, donations from families or heirs cleaning out closets and garages. The shop, 17010 S. Oak Park Ave. in Tinley Park, is a resale shop operated by Together We Cope, a homeless prevention agency serving families in crisis from 22 south suburban communities.

These treasures and many others were dropped off at the shop over the years, either as anonymous donations or by people who requested receipts for tax deductions. In all cases, they were mingled with thousands of donated items in a given week and it was not possible to trace their origins when the hidden items were discovered by staff. They all ended up funding the agency’s mission to assist families in need.

They are just a fraction of the items people and businesses donate to The Sensible Shoppe. Some are given free to families in need who register as clients with Together We cope, but most are sold to customers who come in daily to browse the eclectic collection of items on display. Some are used or vintage pieces, others are new with price tags still attached.

No customers were interested in a vintage Berkel meat slicer an anonymous donor left at the back door of the shop a few years ago, until it was put up for bid on eBay. A man from Italy noticed it and offered $800. A volunteer at the shop had to make a wooden crate to ship the heavy steel piece.

Pat Hosman, manager of The Sensible Shoppe, remembers a particularly delightful donation. “A bridal shop cleared out its warehouse one spring and brought two trucks filled with wedding and prom gowns to The Sensible Shoppe for donation. They were samples and most were in good condition,” she said, “and they flew off the racks quickly.” Some soiled dresses were sold for fabric only, Hosman said, to customers who sought lace and beads for use in making items like decorative pillows.

“We get lots of collector items, like plates and figurines,” Hosman said. “New clothing and household items are mixed in with vintage pieces or gently used quality clothing. And the things for sale at the front of the store change daily as donations come in at the back of the store.”

Suellen Wolk, community relations coordinator at Cope, said at this time of the year many generous people donate Christmas gifts they don’t need.

“Don’t re-gift, re-purpose your items. They can be valuable additions to our Sensible Shoppe,” She suggested.

Kathryn Straniero is executive director of Together We Cope. For more information call Pat Hosman at 633-5040.