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God’s Garage Sale: a huge testament to love of neighbor

Patty Benner tacked on several dollars to her total for a used table, lamp and two candle holders. The whole amount — the $17 furniture cost plus donation — will help orphans in Haiti.

Other shoppers at God's Garage Sale June 16 at St. Clement of Rome Parish in Des Peres chipped in to help Melissa's Hope Orphanage, a home to 24 children — about half of whom have severe disabilities — and a free school for about 70 children in Port Au Prince. The orphanage support was a project for 40 years of the late Jane Corbett of St. Michael Parish in Shrewsbury; parishioners at St. Clement and St. Michael parishes continue her work, alternating the fundraiser between the parishes.

"I appreciate what they do," said Benner, a member of St. Gerard Majella Parish in Kirkwood, when asked why she made a donation. After a pause, she added, "It's because I'm Catholic."

The large gym was filled with items, as were several hallways and two other rooms. At least 40 volunteers helped each day.

"Nobody wants the memory of Jane to diminish," said Mary James, who is Corbett's sister. Corbett, who died last year at age 80 after a short battle with cancer, had spent most of her adult life raising money for the orphanage and taking trips to visit it and the ministries in Haiti run by Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity. Corbett also supported programs in St. Louis serving needy and hungry people.

The continuation of the garage sale reflects on Corbett's character.

"We're all Jane's followers," said Mary Toler of Holy Redeemer Parish in Webster Groves. "She was like a saint. We're following her way. She exuded love and made you feel like the most special person in the world."

The volunteers "work for hours on end," James said. "The love in this building is beyond anything I've witnessed because of the story of the children in Haiti. People feel they know these children because we're so connected."

St. Clement Parish's pastor, Msgr. Mike Butler, encouraged sales and pitched in to help. "It's a great thing they do for Haiti and for others in our community," he said.

Besides offering bargains on furniture, clothing, shoes, holiday items, toys, bikes and much more, the organizers invite needy families to choose what they want for no charge. Leftover items go to the Society of Vincent de Paul and other charities.

St. Clement parishioner Lauren Pollman postponed her orientation to the University of Arkansas because she didn't want to miss volunteering at the sale. She's been a helper since age 6. "I love all the people, seeing all the treasures come through the door and the joy people have in buying it," she said.

Her mom, Sandy Pollmann — "the world's hardest-working human being," according to James — said the idea is to make some lives a little brighter. "We can't all go to Haiti, so we do our best to help out," she said. "It's because of the love Jane spread."

Some of Jane's helpers will make two trips to Haiti this year, one at the end of this month and another in December. They will take bags filled with toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap and more.

TJ Giunta, who'll be in the eighth grade at St. Clement this fall, came to the gym after serving at Mass in the morning. He carried items to people's cars and helped move other merchandise. The proceeds "go to someone who needs it. We're so much more fortunate than they are," he said. 

>> Bears, toothbrushes and more

Dee Arnold sews stuffed bears, about 8 inches in length, for the children of Melissa's Hope Orphanage in Haiti and for Father Bob's Outreach (Msgr. Robert Gettinger) at St. Augustine Parish in north St. Louis.

"Kids love them, no matter how old they are," said Arnold, a parishioner of St. Michael the Archangel in Shrewsbury. "They're soft, they're washable."

Items are collected by St. Michael parishioners and by people across the archdiocese all year for the children in the orphanage. Included are bags with personal care items, including wash rags, toothbrushes, toothpaste and small bars of soap. "If I get low on something, God sends it via someone else," Arnold said.

It's a project first started by the late Jane Corbett. These and other items also are donated for Father Bob's Outreach and for homeless people in St. Louis. "The littlest thing means the world to them," Arnold said.

To donate items, call Arnold at (314) 276-5199.

Donations for Melissa's Hope Orphanage can be sent to Kare Drew Haitian Children's Foundation, Inc., 50 Boulder Rd., Brewster, MA 02631. 

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