By Mike Lang, Staff reporter
In a few short weeks, Anna Procope will do what she does twice a year: organize thousands of pieces of children’s clothing, set up the gymnasium at St. Catherine of Siena School, supervise a bunch of volunteers, then watch the clothes disappear.
Work on the resale and its autumn version never really ends for this mother of six. And she’s fine with that. Procope and her sister-in-law, Christine Procope, began the Children’s Clothing and Toy Resale at St. Catherine’s in 2002 after the death of Anna’s sister, Susan Kutys, who ran a similar event at St. Francis de Sales Parish in Lenni, Pa. The St. Catherine’s resale (the next one is scheduled for April 9) has expanded beyond a fund-raiser for the parish and school. To the Procopes, it was always about more than money.
For Anna, the resale began as a kind of therapy. “Chrissy said, ‘You know, this would help keep her memory alive,’ and so we started it at St. Catherine’s,” she said.
Christine, who had two young daughters at the time and now has four children, said the resale was something tangible she could do to help the parish and people who needed clothing but couldn’t afford retail prices.
“I really felt at the time that every day, all I do is housework, and how is that even important?” she said. “After watching her sister pass, it was one of the hardest things, and that’s just not what life’s about. So I wanted to do something else.”
Anna said she understands what it’s like needing to find deals. “I used to shop at my sister’s resale because I was a struggling mom, my husband and I were young. I would be able to get really good bargains and I’m glad to be able to provide that for people, too.”
The shoppers are not only strangers, she added. Some of them are Catholic school parents who spend less on clothes and use the savings to help afford tuition.
“That’s people in our own community,” she said.
$20,000 in sales
From its humble beginnings the resale has grown beyond what the Procopes, who both live in Hockessin, thought was possible. They now have about 150 consignors who fill the gymnasium with clothing, and the gathering space with bikes, games and toys. St. Catherine’s takes 50 percent of the selling price, and the proceeds are distributed among various parish ministries, primarily St. Catherine’s School, said the pastor, Father John Hynes.
“It’s been a vital help,” Father Hynes said. “With economic times being what they are, some families who have done their best sometimes get caught not being able to pay. We’ve been able to sustain people in the school who were financially troubled.”
While St. Catherine’s School will close at the end of this academic year, merging with St. Matthew’s and Corpus Christi to become All Saints Catholic School, the resale will continue, said the Procopes, whose school-age children will attend All Saints. They don’t see why All Saints couldn’t benefit from the resale, but nothing has been decided, they said.
The women said much of the satisfaction they get comes from the assistance the parish is able to provide area social service agencies and charities.
Once the sale is over, the remaining clothes are donated to area organizations, including three orphanages, Bayard House, Shoes2Share and Justified Help, which provides assistance to Haiti. Some of the items are given away.
Anna said a local pediatrician used to buy a bunch of clothing to keep in her garage for patients who needed it.
Christine remembered a woman who needed clothing who attended the resale.
“She came in and asked, ‘How much is all this? What can I give you?’
“And we said nothing. And she just cried. You don’t realize how it affects other people, and that’s how I get my greatest joy.”
According to Anna, it sometimes looks as if nothing has been sold during the resale, but they usually sell more than $20,000 worth of clothing in a three-hour period. She said it takes from 12-15 minutes just to get shoppers into the gym when the sale opens its doors.
The sisters-in-law were quick to note that they don’t do this alone. They have had loyal volunteers since the beginning, including many women whose children graduated from St. Catherine of Siena long ago.
Father Hynes attributes that loyalty to their management style, which he described as “personalistic.”
“Anna and Chris kind of have the best of that in them. I’m very grateful to them,” he said.
One of the perks for the volunteers and consignors is the ability to shop on the Friday night before the sale opens to the public.