World’s Longest Yard Sale is a Haiti mission for St. Augustine parishioners

St. Augustine Church members assist customers at the parish’s tent during the World’s Longest Yard Sale during the first weekend of August. St. Augustine collects donated items for sale during the annual event, with proceeds going to a Haiti mission.
Photo by Stephanie Richer

Parishioners at St. Augustine Church in Signal Mountain aren’t letting the World’s Longest Yard Sale pass them by.

They’re taking part as a way to benefit the American Haitian Foundation, a charity that originated at St. Augustine.

St. Augustine members in early August set up a tent and sold the wares they had collected, with the proceeds going to the American Haitian Foundation.

The foundation supports the Complexe Educatif de St. Antoine (CESA), a primary school in the impoverished rural town of Petite Riviere de Nippes in Haiti.

Since 1997, the St. Augustine group has hosted a rummage sale during the 127 Sale, billed as the World’s Longest Yard Sale that stretches from Michigan to Alabama and occurs annually during the first weekend of August.
About a month before the yard sale, volunteers from AHF begin collecting donations of goods from the parishioners of St. Augustine Church, sorting them, pricing them, and tagging them. On the weekend before the sale, they advertise and hold a pre-sale at the church. This year, the pre-sale brought in $9,600.

Additional sales took place at weekend Masses during the month prior to the sale. The foundation began this year’s yard sale with $16,000 already collected. In 2011, the yard sale brought in $38,000.

The sale is held in the parking lot of Price Rite Marking Systems, also in Signal Mountain. An owner of the family business is Jack Davidson, who donates the space to the foundation for the sale, and who was also one of the founders of the foundation and has taken trips to Haiti. Mr. Davidson regularly speaks to groups about CESA and the work done there. He said on the Tuesday before the yard sale, a number of volunteers show up at St. Augustine Church with trucks to move the donated items to a rented tent in front of Price Rite. And 100 to 150 families from the parish take part in the sale.  All items that remain unsold are donated to charities such as Goodwill and the Ladies of Charity.

CESA began as the dream of Monsignor Herve Granjean, a Haitian priest, to build a school in Petite Riviere de Nippes. In 1992, Father Granjean gathered children in the church to pray for a miracle because there was no money for a school. The next week, an unexpected donation of $600 from St. Augustine Church arrived. Father Granjean traveled to St. Augustine to thank the parish and tell parishioners what he hoped to build.

In June 1993, the first group of parishioners visited the town. On their return, they asked the then pastor, Father Paul Valleroy, if they could start a project to build the school. He said he would approve the project if at least 150 families agreed to participate actively; the group got 152 families to volunteer and the project began.

To build the school, a Haitian architect and a Haitian contractor were hired, with the condition that only local labor would be used. So many local residents were given the opportunity to learn building trades in construction of the school, giving them more self-reliance.

“Jobs are the critical thing in Haiti,” Mr. Davidson said. “It’s great to go on a mission, but when you leave, what happens next?”

He pointed out that CESA educates the children and employs local adults. CESA now employs 108 residents, all of whom are Haitian, as cooks, maintenance workers, and teachers. Some of the teachers are former students who have returned to give back to their community.

There are plans to establish a dental clinic to be staffed by former students who have become health professionals.

And the AHF has been collaborating with Cambridge College in Memphis on technology, and more than 250 students are computer literate at CESA as a result. Each day at the school, approximately 1,200 children are fed complete meals.

A return trip to Haiti is planned for February 2013.

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