How the Annual Charity Garage Sale Began

Her name was Elisabeth Hillstrom and since we shared the same first name, it meant we were instant friends. She lived in the neighborhood and we were in the same ward. I was 13 and she was 7. She was a blonde beauty and had a radiant smile. But Elisabeth got sick: she had an inoperable brain tumor. She went through chemotherapy. She went through radiation. She lost her hair, she lost weight. I remember babysitting her and her siblings one evening as she carried her bucket around in case she got sick and she had tubes all over. I don't think I quite understood what it all meant.

In 1999, the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Utah granted Elisabeth a wish. She wanted a horse. She got "Carrots" soon after, as well as a corral and feed for a year. But Elisabeth only lived for a short time after that. I remember the Sunday when my dad told me that Elisabeth was probably going to pass away soon. I went to my room and got on my knees and told God I didn't want her to die because she was my friend. But if He needed her home, I asked for her to pass away in peace. She did return Home in peace.

I couldn't attend the funeral that week since I was at a summer camp, but I wish I would have gone. I think I needed closure for my little friend. Thoughts of her continued to surface and I didn't know what exactly would help.

To honor Elisabeth's memory, I asked my brilliant mom what I could do to raise money for Make-A-Wish to thank them for helping my friend. She and I sat down and brainstormed some fun ideas. We thought of doing a clothing exchange. We thought of doing a carnival for kids. And then we thought of doing a garage sale. The idea stuck. We told the Hillstrom family that we were raising money in memory of Elisabeth. They were surprised and touched by the gesture. Soon after, I designed fliers and hand-delivered them around my neighborhood. We started collecting donations for the sale. We made signs. On a Friday night, some family, friends and I organized everything in the small living room at my home in Huntsville, Utah. The next morning, we carried it up to our neighbor's big driveway. We put up the signs. And people came. And we sold items to raise money for Make-A-Wish. For a 13-year-old, this was a big venture. At the end of the day, we had raised a whopping $226. For me, it was a miracle. We packed up the remaining items, sent them to the Deseret Industries, took down the signs, and donated the money very quietly.

The following January, the Broderick family--a family I had babysat for 4 years and had hosted the first sale--lost their infant son Jacob, who was born with Trisomy 18. The thought occurred to try the garage sale out again and this time to donate to Make-A-Wish and to the hospitals who provided infant bereavement kits to families who lost infants.

We held the garage sale again. This time more donations came in. This time we held it at the Hillstrom home. This time we doubled our money to about $500. Another huge success.

The next year, there was no question about it. We wanted to do the sale again. And again. Year after year, we received more donations and raised more money. Then the granddaughter of Rob and Colleen Burton passed away shortly after birth. We added MaKena to the reason for the sale. The summers of 2007 and 2008 I was on a mission in Brazil. A committee of ward members and neighbors decided to take on the project. They made the sale even more successful. And the money kept increasing. We added in more causes when a family in the valley suffered a tragic accident that took the lives of a mother and some of her children. We decided to sponsor a wish every year, donate to the hospitals, and then choose a couple of families in need in the community and help them. Last year, our 14th year, we raised over $12,000 bringing our total to more than $70,000. And here we are, in the 15th year. And, this is most likely our final year.

I can't adequately express the emotions and feelings behind this sale. So many are helped, from those who donate, to those who buy, to those who volunteer, to those who receive a wish or a kit or financial help.

I have seen the community come together in this effort. The effort takes months to plan, and a whole week to set up. We essentially put up a mini thrift store and take it all down. We run the sale in two days. Even in our small town, we raise a lot of money and even fill two DI pods with extra donations.
2011 Garage Sale

Every year, we have more than 100 volunteers help in the set up alone. My family and friends have been a huge support over the years. The families of those benefited have made this have heart. LDS Church wards from across the valley send people to volunteer or donate. The Ogden Valley Community Church has sent volunteers and donated so much. The monks at the local Catholic monastery drop in to help. The Baptist Church sends youth groups. Even youth groups from out of town drop in. Neighbors plan to have the week free at the beginning of the year so they can help. Some donate food for the volunteers. Some donate food to sell to the customers. Others plan a yearly contribution to the effort. Still others spend hours picking up donations. A local nursery often donates many plants before closing out their store for the summer.

The fire department sends their workers to help set up and take down the big canopies, clothing racks and so forth. People take time off of work to be a part of the sale. And then there are those who know what the sale is for and donate generously. They tell us the stories of someone they know who was helped by Make-A-Wish or someone who was helped at the hospital. We hug and sometimes I have to choke back the emotion. $20 donated here for a few small items. Keep the change on a $5 bill. A check written for $100 when the items only amounted to $50. Some come in and find nothing they want to buy, but leave us a contribution. Others stop in to buy, realize it's a charity sale, and come back with something nice from their house they'd like to donate.

I make it all sound glorious. It has been hard. Very hard. The days are long and hot. There's a lot of driving to pick up donations, a lot of work to get the word out about the sale. Sometimes we have to deal with heckling garage salers. Rainstorms have made more than a few garage sale years very difficult...and wet. One year a microburst destroyed 6 canopies and a lot of donated items. Sometimes people steal things. Sometimes people donate junk that we have to go through. Sometimes I wonder if it's all worth it.

But then I remember Elisabeth. And Jacob. And MaKena. And every child we've granted a wish to. And every family who was struggling and received some unexpected help.This year, Elisabeth would have been 21. It's likely she would be on a mission or in school or married. I would imagine she's been there in spirit for at least a few of those garage sales and that she's grateful so much has been done in her memory.

Many people think they need to turn to some far away land to do some good. But often there are unrealized needs in our own community. $226 may not seem like much of a difference. But it made a difference to some. A difference big enough to eventually raise more than $70,000.

Check out our Facebook page for more pictures and information about how to donate to this year's sale which will be July 26-27, 2013.

Thanks to Brooke Broderick, who created this video. 

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