A great place to volunteer
By Diana Colson
Many residents of The Landings have found the Women’s Exchange to be the perfect place to volunteer. Soon to be renamed simply the Exchange, this non-profit organization has been a real force in Sarasota since 1962. In the intervening years, it has awarded more than $8 million in arts-related grants and scholarships. It has also filtered money back into our local economy. (In fiscal year 2016/2017, more than $2 million was paid out to local consigners.) The large consignment operation is operated by more than 260 volunteers, 5,000 consignors, and only 11 or 12 paid employees. With its ever-changing inventory of Baccarat crystal, Tiffany silver, Gucci handbags, fine jewelry, high-end furniture, oriental rugs, women’s clothing, and—most recently—men’s clothes, it is a favorite haunt for Sarasota residents as well as visitors from around the world.
Jim and Sandy Goldman of the Landings are among those 260 volunteers. For several years, Jim was Chairman of the Board of the Women’s Exchange, helping it become the extraordinary operation that it is today.
When the Goldman’s bought their house in the Landings in 2001, they didn’t bring a lot of furniture. They soon discovered the Women’s Exchange, and it became their furniture store of choice. So impressed were they with the condition of the items, three-fourths of their gorgeous home is stocked with finds from W.E. Says Jim, “Everything was practically new. Nothing looked used and abused, scratched or dirty.”
During their “snowbird years,” Jim and Sandy continued to periodically stop in at The Exchange. They traveled back and forth to Pittsburgh until he retired from his law practice in 2004. Once permanently settled in Sarasota, they decided to volunteer one or more times a week at their favorite hang-out: Women’s Exchange!
Formerly a teacher and counselor who helped heart transplant patients deal with anxiety, Sandy started her volunteering by selling jewelry. As her Exchange skills grew, she moved to working the cash register, and then on to pricing miscellaneous objects. Today, she deals with pricing clothing. Sandy volunteers at Women’s Exchange 1 to 4 days a week, with each shift lasting approximately 3 hours.
Besides his work with the Board, Jim is usually found volunteering in furniture. He never has to move any of the big stuff, however, for that is all handled by employees. (W.E. has a few trucks which they use for pickup and delivery.)
Says Sandy,” We have such a good time! I often bring people to help me. The organization is very appreciative. Every March there is a luncheon for volunteers at Michael’s on East, and there is always a Christmas Gift Card. It is very nice to know you are appreciated. If we have friends in town, we always take them over.”
Both Sandy and Jim speak highly of the incredible job done by Karen Koblenz, Executive Director/ CEO of Women’s Exchange.
Connie Goldman has worked at the exchange for about two years, first in clothing and now in jewelry, which she loves. Connie says, “It is fun to help people find what they want because jewelry is not about getting what one needs. It is most fun to see men buying gifts for their wives and girlfriends. I volunteer regularly and very occasionally I substitute.”
As for her own purchases, Connie says, “My best find was a strand of opal beads that were marked down from the retail store at more than $1000. I paid about $100. If you know what you are doing, there are even better deals to be found.”
Mona Poyta has volunteered at the Exchange for about three years, working every Tuesday afternoon. She does whatever needs doing, usually working in the back, pricing clothing, shoes, and pocketbooks. It is a rare Tuesday when she does not purchase some small inexpensive treasure for her own use. One time, however, she found a beautiful original art piece created by a local artist. She called her husband, who raced down with measurements of their wall. One look and they knew the painting would look marvelous in their home. They purchased it on the spot.
Astrid Hull has been volunteering for about 10 years. Now 90 years of age, she originally started because a cousin of her husband worked there. Since that cousin did not drive, Astrid became her chauffeur. Once at the Exchange, Astrid decided she might as well do something constructive, so she became a Wrapper—a job which she does to this day. This amazingly upbeat woman drives herself back and forth from the Landings. She says, “If I know I need something for my own home, it’s always the first place I look.”
Carol Carr and Dawn Smith are among other Landings residents who volunteer at The Exchange.
The Exchange has been able to recycle more than 4,800,000 items of used merchandise over the past 50 years. Unsold items are regularly donated to local non-profit organizations such as the Pines of Sarasota and Salvation Army, where items are either sold in their retail stores or given to individuals in need.
Volunteer Opportunities are many. The Exchange is always in need of Cashiers and Wrappers as well as Pricers and Taggers. Volunteers are also needed to handle Consignment Intake, as well as to keep an eagle eye out for Loss Prevention. Shelves and racks need to be stocked with merchandise, phones need to be answered, papers need to be filed, and customers need to be served. Volunteers work in one of four sales departments: Furniture, Clothing, Jewelry and Miscellaneous.
Most volunteers work a 3-hour shift once or twice a week. Year-round and seasonal volunteers are always welcome, as well as students who want to fulfill their community service hours for college. Patti Hysell is the Volunteer Coordinator. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. A Volunteer Application can be downloaded from the website.
The Exchange is located at 539 South Orange Ave in downtown Sarasota. Hours are Mon through Friday 9-4, and Sat. 10-4. Closed on Sundays. 941.955.7859.