Story and photos by KRISTINA CASAGRAND
Before daybreak on Friday, 1402 Wilson Ave.’s green-shuttered mouth spit out boxes, furniture, bags of clothes. As items left the grounds, money stayed behind — it was a month-long effort to help send two friends to Uganda.
“For the past week or two, our basement was filled,” said Lindsey Zelenak, one of the residents.
“It was like (the A&E television program) ‘Hoarders,'” added her roommate, Emily Spain.
The seven women, who have lived in the house since August, spent about a month orchestrating the large garage sale. The selection spanned beyond used clothes and old CDs, but the cause also defied expectations. Rather than pay rent or fund a road trip, the money will help fund their friends Katherine and Patrick Sasser’s Invisible Children project in Uganda.
All but one of the house’s residents met Katherine Sasser at Rock Bridge High School. She led their Young Life group as a mentor, holding club meetings that encouraged relationships. That led into Bible study. And then, about four months ago, she received a text message.
“This was totally unsolicited,” Katherine said. “They just told me one day, ‘we’re going to put on a garage sale for you.’ I was like, ‘sweet!'”
Katherine said she didn’t think too much about the sale until a Facebook event generated more than 40 commitments for donations and support. About 20 families and individuals donated items, and organizers of another benefit sale allowed the women to take their leftover goods.
Among the standard garage sale fare — decorations, books, old electronics — some peculiar items arose. The residents eagerly showed off a vintage brown evening coat with a white fur collar and a hardcover Star Trek book (complete with a Star Trek bookmark). A crocheted cow tissue holder was also pretty weird, they said, but it wasn’t the strangest.
“There was this bizarre blue vase with an ornate gold design,” Spain said.
“It looked like a genie lamp,” Zelenak added.
“Yeah! It looked like a genie bottle,” said Spain. “I thought, nobody’s going to buy that — quarter!”
The vase sold early on Friday morning.
Aside from having fun with ’70s relics, people-watching kept the women entertained throughout the weekend. Dumpster divers who explored some receptacles across the street came over to the sale.
“It’s been interesting to see people who live around here who aren’t college students,” said Megan Ellis, another resident of the house.
Veronica Booker brought three of her children to the sale, and their plaintive requests for toys brought energy to the lawn. Booker’s school bus route traverses Wilson Street.
“When I drive, I look out for yard sales,” she said.
When she came, Booker didn’t know the women were raising money for a cause, but she overheard Ellis telling shoppers, “it’s for Invisible Children; they help to rehabilitate child soldiers.”
“Knowing that, it made me look a little harder,” Booker said.
Going beyond fundraising to educate others has defined Invisible Children’s cause. Since 2003, volunteers have worked to improve infrastructure, curriculum and technology in Northern Uganda schools. The Sassers plan to participate in a teacher exchange from June 14 to July 26.
“I’ll be living in the community and teaching world cultures in the schools,” said Katherine, who has taught social studies at Gentry Middle School for three years.
Her husband, Patrick, who teaches digital media at the Columbia Area Career Center, will teach math in Uganda. Katherine said they will partner with another teacher at Layibi Secondary School in Gulu, Uganda to teach students in seventh grade to high-school levels.
“The coordinator told us we’ll be there to provide new strategies and to show what education looks like here versus in Uganda,” Katherine said. “I’ll learn as much from the experience as I can contribute.”
The trip will cost $9,000. The Sassers committed to paying $4,500 and seek to raise the other half through online donations and letters of support.
For their part, the women at 1402 Wilson Ave. have also explored multiple avenues for fundraising, selling more than $100 worth of clothes at Plato’s Closet and simultaneously selling stuff on Craigslist during the days of the sale.
“We’ve been impressed by the support we’ve seen from people, telling us to keep the change and offering donations,” Ellis said.
Katherine said she is in awe of the women’s selfless work.
“The word that keeps coming to me is that I feel so humbled to think they would support us in this way,” Katherine said. “They’re busy girls and are so involved and invested in what they’re doing. They are great friends for doing a great thing.”
During a quiet moment on Friday, three of the roommates ate puppy chow on their front porch.
“It sucks that money could keep them from helping others,” Spain said.
After thinking about that, Ellis said, “We are helping through them, in a way.”
Zelenak laughed, looking out at their stuff-strewn lawn. “We’re trying.”
Anyone who is interested can donate to the Sassers online at the Invisible Children Teachers Exchange website.