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Beautiful bargains, 'thrill of the hunt' draw hundreds to Jeffco Action Center sale

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By AJ Vicens

Want to make some homemade soap? A kit was selling for $3. Need to expand your movie library? DVDs were going for a dollar each. Do a lot of your friends have birthdays in November? Greeting cards were 10 cents a pop.

And those were just a few of the thousands of items for sale at the Jeffco Action Center's 64th Beautiful Junk Sale at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds.

The center depends on the sale as a fund-raiser to further its mission of helping families in need, and the JAC has sold excess items every March and October for the last 32 years. It started out as a small event in church basements, and the sale finally had to move to the fairgrounds in fall of 2005.

Mag Strittmatter, the center's executive director, said the sale could fill an even larger space — if one were available.

"People love their stuff," Strittmatter said. "And they love their bargains."

The two-day event Oct. 17 and 18 drew roughly 1,500 shoppers, she said, each paying $2 to enter. The event usually nets the JAC about $30,000.

"You know you're getting a good deal, but the money you spend helps your neighbors," Strittmatter said.

Those funds couldn't come at a better time. Demands on the center are increasing amid the rocky economy. The JAC worked with 160 families a day during a stretch in mid-October, according to Strittmatter. It hands out between two and three tons of food per day.

"The demand is incredible," she said.

The JAC spends thousands of dollars a week on the staples it distributes. Donations — financial and otherwise — are down a bit, but it's not clear if that’s a result of the time of year or is part of a trend.

"The Jeffco Action Center has been around for 40 years, and we've never seen it like this," Strittmatter said. "But we're a bunch of optimists, though."

At midmorning Oct. 18, the sale area was packed. Anne Meier of Evergreen said she was "amazed with how much stuff is here." Meier was looking for toys for her kids and perhaps some Christmas presents. Meier brought her kids and one of their friends, and all of them fanned out to scope out the best bargains.

Meier said she's "heartened" by the amount of people that she saw in the hall Oct. 18.

"It just shows that the Jeffco Action Center has a lot of support, and I think that's great," Meier said. "Both in terms of donations and shoppers."

Jean Cowan of Lakewood was checking out the odds and ends and thought she might have come across some items she herself had donated.

"I donate everything to the Action Center," Cowan said, adding that she prefers the center to other charities because she likes the way the program works.

Families aren't given handouts and sent on their way at the JAC — all clients have to meet with a counselor to determine eligibility and formulate a plan to get back on their feet.

"I feel good about it," Cowan said. "They give this stuff away to people who need it. There's a little bit of everything, and they do a good job."

Along with some inexpensive and kitschy items, the sale offered some real steals. A book of all the New Yorker magazines ever printed was available for just $35. It normally retails at about $100. A photo book depicting Colorado 100 years ago versus today, which could fetch more than $100 at retail, was available for $15.

The potential for unique finds lured at least one Arvada woman to the sale.

Irene Berry has been coming to the Beautiful Junk Sale for the last several years. She was looking for old picnic baskets and hand-painted dishes this time, but was also keeping her eyes open for something out of the ordinary.

"It's the thrill of the hunt," Berry said.