October 5, 2002--In a time when many families and churches are cutting back, the parishioners of St. Paul's dug deep last Saturday and brought forth an outpouring of blessings for the less fortunate. St. Paul's held its third annual Tagless Sale, and if it was not the most successful yet, it was certainly the best attended!
To the uninitiated, the St. Paul's Tagless Sale is a church-led drive to accumulate clothing, goods, toys, appliances and personal mementos, donated by members, neighbors and friends in the area all of which are then given away, free of charge, with no strings attached.
Even by St. Paul's own standards, last Saturday's Tagless sale was of Super Bowl proportions. When the doors opened at 9:00, there were over 400 people waiting to come in. According to the event coordinator and inspirational leader, Susan Jolly, We did not rise to the level of Jesus' loaves and fishes, but it was a miracle, nevertheless! Over 250 women's sweaters, 200 women's pants, 350 pieces of baby clothing, 175 pieces of men's clothing, over 200 pairs of shoes, not to mention children's playhouses, row upon row of toys, a $600 stereo system, a 27-inch TV, 3 washing machines, 5 sofas, 2 refrigerators, 1 freezer, and a piano all found new owners.
The genesis of this event came three years ago, when one of the small groups at St. Paul's read the book Why Small Groups? published by PDI [now called Sovereign Grace Ministries]. One chapter suggested holding a "Tagless" sale where every item would be offered as a free gift, just like God's free gift of life. The group seized upon the idea and put together the first "sale" which was judged a smashing success. Indeed, it inspired St. Paul's to transform this one time sale into an annual, signature event, with the church going all out to express the love of Jesus Christ in the most tangible, bountiful and spirit-filled ways.
Every detail was carefully planned, starting with setting a firm date over six months ago. Over 25 organizations serving the needy throughout Fairfield County were contacted. Gifts were solicited, sorted and arranged. Specially designed T-shirts were ordered for the St. Paul's team. Provisions were made to feed every guest which entailed preparing many gallons of coffee and lemonade and ordering 32 dozen donuts and chocolate chip cookies. Over 1,000 grocery bags were distributed to arriving guests to help them organize and lighten their load, and another 500 departure packets (think spiritual goody-bags) were presented to guests, along with lollipops for their children, as they left.
How sweet it was!
It takes exceptional people to execute a good plan to perfection. As George Peppard, the late star of the former hit show, The A Team, said at the conclusion of each weekly episode, "I love it when a good plan comes together." Saturday's plan came together thanks to the leadership and dedication of the men and women of St. Paul's who were determined to perform like members of The J Team for Jesus.
They were led by Susan Jolly, who for the last week has organized caravans of compassion to bring carloads of gifts to the sanctuary. Once there, each item was carefully and lovingly arranged by volunteers such as Eileen Gallo, Rose Carroll, Emalie Hedberg, Dot Greenlee, and Lisa Horne. Valerie Rose, for example, personally sorted and individually marked over 100 bedsheets so that guests would know whether each was for a single, double, queen or king. Almost one-third of St. Paul's entire membership was on hand to greet each guest, some of who arrived two hours early before the event even opened Saturday morning.
Once there, guests found a ready answer to every question and a volunteer to attend to their every need. Many of the men of St. Paul's, who might be likened to modern-day Levites Eric Swedberg, Tony Mattioli, Dan Fox, Craig Lyons, Keith Richards, and Bill Jolly to cite a few arched their backs to lug and haul every heavy item from the sanctuary to a designated cordoned-off waiting area, and thence to each car or van.
What the planners did not anticipate was having all their guests arrive at the same time! Despite the efforts of a policeman directing traffic, and volunteers providing shuttle service, there was congestion on Mansfield Avenue for an hour or two. "We want to apologize to anyone who was inconvenienced," said Christopher Leighton, Rector of St. Paul's, "But at the same time, a lot of people were helped! We likened the situation to Psalm 29:10, and the people being like a flood surging forward. Had not the Lord been over it all we would have been greatly dismayed but He helped us."
God also moved in ways quite unplanned and unexpected. For example, as Kristin Morgan, wife of St. Paul's Assistant Rector, Dan Morgan, and her daughters were dressing two baby dolls, they found an additional bag of clothes that fit a much bigger doll which, unfortunately, had been given away last year. Somewhat saddened the girls and their mother carried their gifts over to the sanctuary where, lo and behold!, standing on a table straight in front of them was an exact replica of the doll of a year ago!
When young Charlotte Morgan told her classmates at Ox Ridge School about the event, many of her classmates' parents responded by bringing in yet another deluge of gifts on their own.
Thus does our God move in mysterious and miraculous ways.
At a time when faith in our nation's economy and political institutions have been undermined by continuing revelations of greed, fraud and immorality. St. Paul's is one of the churches that is stepping up to fill the gap with a different kind of leadership one that is based on generosity, compassion and unselfish and loving hearts. A breath of fresh air in a time of polluted morals.
It's been said that when God measures people's generosity, He puts a tape measure around their hearts. At their third annual Tagless sale on Saturday, the people of St. Paul's not only stretched their tape, they broke it!