When the Salvation Army in Eagle River shut its doors last year, members of the United Methodist Church of Chugiak opened theirs a bit wider.
The church off of Old Glenn Highway began accepting items like lamps, dress shirts, refrigerators, and boots after noticing heaps of used goods dumped at recycling and donation bins in nearby parking lots following the thrift store's closing.
People didn't know where to drop donations anymore, said Jan Wachsmuth, a church coordinator.
"The piles grew, the snow fell, things got soggy and the store owners didn't like the eyesores in their parking lots," she said.
So the church launched a solution, "Recycle for a Reason," a large-scale garage sale where prices aren't specified and profits cycle back into the community. Saturday's bazaar marked the year anniversary of the monthly, two-day sales in the church's community center. A steady flow of shoppers browsed some 30 tables crowded with everything from blenders to wreaths, baseball caps to a ceramic goose.
A Spanish teacher left with a $10 upholstered rocking chair, an Army veteran put down $1 for four silver spoons and a mother of three stacked jeans for her growing family underneath two plush monkeys.
"If that's what they can afford, that's what we take," Wachsmuth said. "We don't ask any questions."
Candise Roark, 26 of Chugiak, walked among stacks of books, an array of puzzles and picked through toys with her three children.
She's a regular at the church's sales and pays more when she has extra cash, less when she doesn't.
"It makes a big difference," Roark said.
Teachers collect hand-me-down classroom and office supplies for free. Bus drivers swing in to get incentives for students at no cost.
Stacy Flagg, a Recycle for a Reason volunteer and teacher at Chugiak Elementary School, pushed a bicycle to her car, a soon-to-be prize for a school-wide reading contest.
"Every kid deserves a bike," Flagg said.
A sheet with the names of more than 40 community groups who have benefitted from the Recycle for a Reason sale hangs on a wall near the entrance.
When the church accepts donations on the first and last Saturday each month, some items are reserved.
Business and formal clothes are sent to Chugiak High School, donated rags for ski waxing to the Arctic Valley Ski Club and collected aluminum cans are converted to cash at Hilltop Recycling and donated to the Eagle River Food Pantry.
All that comes in, goes out.
At the end of the sale, Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Alaska picks up any leftover items and the process begins again next month.
"We're trying to make sure everything gets used and stays out of the landfill as much as possible," Wachsmuth said.
However, this week there will be at least one thing leftover -- a diamond ring was donated on Friday and valued at nearly $1,000. Wachsmuth suspects it's an engagement ring and she's unsure where to sell it.
Things like this happen with regular shoppers with whom volunteers have established relationships.
"They give you those things they can't bring themselves to get rid of," Wachsmuth said.
The sale, earns between $1,400 and $3,200 monthly, said Kay Abrams, an organizer. About one-third of that, after direct costs are subtracted, goes to the national United Methodist Committee on Relief and the rest is put into a pool and distributed in grants to nonprofits like Children's Lunchbox.
"So what's our prognosis for now?," Abrams said about the sale. "We've seen it's given us side benefits that we'd never thought of."
Reach Tegan Hanlon at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4589.
Recycle for a Reason
Where: United Methodist Church of Chugiak, 16430 Old Glenn Highway, Chugiak
When: Second Friday and Saturday each month, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Donations taken first and last Saturday each month, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
By TEGAN HANLON
Alaska Dispatch Publishing