Volunteering at SAWA


The Salvation Army Fabric Sale (around noon, after it’s cleared out a bit)

Christine here.  Recently there was the Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary Christmas luncheon, a “thank you” luncheon for the volunteers. I’m a member of “SAWA” and I volunteer at their very large warehouse once a week in the fall and late winter, which are the times of the year when we work on fabric. I don’t volunteer for the Toys for Tots, the camps, or the bell-ringing at Christmas. I work hard at the warehouse, but I limit my volunteer activities to the one I’m interested in: Fabric.

It’s me and a bunch of women who are mostly older than I am. I pick up Kay, who lives in my neighborhood and probably shouldn’t drive anymore, and we go over a bridge and through a tunnel (Pittsburgh has 3 rivers, and you can’t go anywhere without going through at least one tunnel and over a bridge or two) and end up at the South Side warehouse. We munch a donut and coffee, and then go sign in and set up at our stations.

Kay is still an amazing quilter despite completely illegible handwriting due to her shakiness. She works at neatly folding and assembling scrap bags of coordinating cottons that sell for a buck. I work a table behind her, where a yardstick is taped onto a high table. I grab stacks of random fabric from the large bind of donated fabrics, and measure them carefully, fold them into a neat package and tie them up with string, staple the measurements to a selvage, then put them in the pricing area.


One of the wool tables at the sale

Whenever someone who used to sew dies, there is an incredible wealth of fabric that would otherwise be thrown in the trash. Instead, the Salvation Army collects it, and all the associated textile crafts as well. My van has trundled off to obscure neighborhoods around Pittsburgh to collect weird bags and boxes and take them to the warehouse for sorting and measuring. Cross stitch kits, yarn batches, sewing machines, crochet hooks and knitting needles, buttons, zippers, etc…. all are donated to the Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary.


The volunteers wear red aprons.  Again– this is pretty cleared out compared to what it looks like in the morning.

Once a year in April, there is an immense one-day sale at incredibly low prices. There are 6 large tables full of neatly folded quilting cottons, where the most money is made. There are more tables of folded cotton scraps, sold by weight, that are roughly fat quarters. The yarn area is also a very big seller. Other tables are: linens, suitings, polyester knits, wool, upholstery, holiday fabrics, sewing machines, quilting supplies (frames, etc), notions, kits…you name it, it’s there. Last year we made over $44,000 for the Salvation Army, despite selling everything at low, low prices. In one day.

The doors open at 9:00, but people start lining up at 6 am. By the time I show up, about 8:00, there’s usually a line out around the building and into the parking lot. Rain and snow do not deter the women and a few men who show up. The place is PACKED. Think rock concert from when you were a teenager and you have a vision of what the place looks like. When the doors open, we have very large shopping bags that we give everyone as they enter, but most of the serious people have bought those immense rip-stop IKEA bags and have one on each shoulder. (Strollers and carts are banned — there’s not enough room).

I usually drag a kid along to help me at check-out, but Jack made it clear that he was NEVER doing this again, EVER, so don’t ask him. He’s at college now anyway. When he was bored out of his mind with calling out prices that I would total up, I would send him off to help ladies who were struggling to carry too-heavy bags to the shuttle bus back to the parking area. I had hoped that my son would find volunteering and helping out to be of value, but I think I turned him off of it for life.

Screen Shot 2017-12-08 at 9.21.08 AMSo, after the Christmas luncheon, I’ve been thinking about my own volunteerism.  Clearly, it helps to find an area of volunteering that is, at least partially, somewhat self-serving. I absolutely work hard at my volunteer job and I think I’ve helped to streamline some of their processes. But I admit it: I have an ulterior motive: I get first dibs at all of the wool.

The wool that is donated has been in closets and attics and basements for years. Some of it is awful, and moths have destroyed much of it. But every once in awhile, I discover one of those exquisite 1960’s plaids with kelly green and chartreuse and a stripe of orange that has been perfectly preserved, or fabric for a 1980’s wool suit that was never cut out – the uncut pattern still in a bag with the fabric, or just a beautiful cashmere/wool camel color that is so lovely and soft that I can barely believe it. And I get it for $6/yard.

Frankly, I think the day before the sale – when we volunteers get to pre-shop the fabric sale by ourselves– is more like Christmas to me than Christmas.

4 thoughts on “Volunteering at SAWA

  1. What a wonderful volunteer job! Hmmm, I’ll have to check with the Salvation Army in Springfield to see if they have an annual fabric sale. Thanks for the idea.

  2. OH my, that WOULD be like Christmas! Even better, actually! What fun to find treasures there!

  3. I’m with Carol! Volunteering is always rewarding in one way or another. Working with fabrics? What could be better? Good idea worth looking into …

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