Sunday, April 29, 2012

Anatomy of a Free 4 All

Since a few people asked for more details about the Free 4 All I attended this weekend, I thought I would make it into its own blog post.  Eventually this will make its way over to my website as a permanent page since it is such a worthy apostolate.

This Free 4 All began when a friend and I had the idea (really my friend had the idea, I just helped organize it :) back about the year 2000 or so.  We tried it a couple of times in my church's basement but what ended up happening was that all kinds of people dropped stuff off but no one came to take things away.  We ended up hauling A LOT of clothing and other items to the local donation center.  For that reason, we let the whole idea die.  Our downfall was that we didn't advertise to the local community, just to our homeschool group!

A few years later a friend of ours picked it back up and made it blossom.  She's third from the left in this photo.  These other wonderful women are her minions helpers.  I picked her brain the other night and here are her tips for running an effective Free 4 All:

1.  First find a big hall or gym (preferably one you don't have to pay for) and then find volunteers to help set up all of the tables.  It would be great if the maintenance staff of the hall or men from the church would take that job on.



2.  Advertise the Free 4 All in the community.  This is obviously the most important part. Her advice is to NOT waste time hanging up flyers all over because she has found that they do not bring in the crowds.  Her most effective form of advertising has been newspaper articles.  It's been easy to get an interview with the local paper because it is a big charity event.  In addition to the newspaper, people have contacted churches, charities and schools in the area, especially in the low-income areas.  They start advertising a few weeks before the event.  Then at the event they advertise for the next one.  

You can also use your 15 passenger van as a moving billboard :)


3.  The event is held on a Saturday from 9 till Noon and there are drop-off times on Thursday and Friday evening.  When people drop off their items (which can be anything in GOOD condition - be it clothing, household items, furniture, toys, etc. - anything but used underwear and sharp knives!) there are volunteers there to help organize the clothing and lay it out neatly on the tables.  The clothing is separated by gender and size.  Everything else is organized by what it is - books, household, toys, etc. 

As we're sorting, we throw out things that are stained, ripped,damaged or inappropriate.  Since a lot of the people who drop off items are other homeschoolers, we usually bring our kids and stay to help. 

4.  Another good thing they've learned for getting people to stay and help set up is to have dinner provided (made by more volunteers :) for those who are working.  This way people won't have to go home and eat and are more likely to stay longer to get the job done.

5.  To make it easier for the shoppers to find a volunteer if they need help, my friend has everyone who is working wear a blue apron.  This way the helpers are easier to spot.  Here she is sewing the finishing touches on the aprons the "donut girls" are going to wear.  Yes, they provide donuts and coffee for the shoppers!

6.  They do provide donation receipts for anyone dropping items off.  Since they have the help and participation of their parish, they put the name and address of the church on the receipt, as well as the date of the next Free 4 All.  Right now they hold the Free 4 All in the Spring and the Fall.

7.  After the event is over, and if there is anything left, they load up a van or two and bring it to the nearest donation center.  Usually there isn't much left.

I can't think of anything else!  This is such a wonderful event and so many people benefit from this great work of mercy.  If you have any other questions that I failed to address, please feel free to email me at