The offshoot of Catholic Charities reaches $100,000 in sales
by Jill Ragar Esfeld
Special to The Leaven
OVERLAND PARK — Team eBay has reached a milestone: $100,000 in sales.
It’s a goal set five years ago by members of the team, an offshoot of Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas’ TurnStyles thrift store.
But they never expected to accomplish it so quickly.
“The year 2011 has been an extraordinarily strong year,” said team leader Ron Behm. “It’s the strongest eBay sales/fundraising year since the concept started in 2006.”
What the accomplishment means to Catholic Charities is more aid for struggling families in northeast Kansas.
“The money goes towards helping individuals with rent, utilities and food assistance,” said Catholic Charities chief operations officer Jennifer Ehart.
“It can certainly help any of our programs,” she added, “but I think primarily people who are in emergency situations and families that are trying to stabilize are helped by this.”
One hundred percent of Team eBay’s profit goes to the charity, because this outstanding sales team is 100 percent volunteer.
“We have the best volunteers anyone can imagine,” said Ehart. “They are self-reliant, they are faithful, and they are kind.”
“And they’re always focused on how they can build fellowship together so we can help others,” she continued. “I love that about them.”
These volunteers will be the first to tell you their compensation comes from the fun, camaraderie and shared excitement when a $3 item is pulled off the thrift store shelf and sold online at a huge profit.
“It’s fun,” said Tom White, a parishioner of Holy Spirit in Overland Park who has been with the team since 2006. “You learn something new all the time about the stuff you’re selling. It’s also fun working with other people.”
Currently, there are 21 members divided into seven three-member eBay teams. Each volunteer commits to four hours a week.
St. Joseph parishioner Cathy Robinson, who celebrated her one-year anniversary with the team this month, said there’s plenty of help learning the process of making a profit on eBay.
“At first, it was hard; there are a lot of steps to it,” she explained. “It takes practice, it takes patience. But Ron pairs a seasoned veteran with novices, and now I’m pretty comfortable.”
Holy Trinity, Lenexa, parishioner Joe Russell agreed.
“I’d worked on computers a little bit before,” he said, “but I had never worked on eBay, and they taught me how to do it. I enjoy it very much now.”
The ability to keystroke and a little Internet experience are the only requirements for this job.
“We don’t require volunteers to have experience with eBay,” explained Behm. “And we say this is going to be a win-win situation.
“If you come and commit to give us four hours a week, we will commit to making you a genius at selling on eBay.”
Steve Armbruster, associate director of store operations for Catholic Charities, believes an important component of the team’s success is volunteers who are constantly on the lookout for salable items.
“When [items] come into the donation bay, that’s our first gathering point,” he said. “And we have kind of a running list of anything that might be salable on eBay.”
“The second place is at our sorting area, where we’ve got a team of volunteers who look through bags and boxes,” he continued. “Then the eBay team goes through the store to see if there’s anything on the shelf we might have missed.”
Over the past five years, the team has had the good fortune of selling and mailing items to individuals in all 50 states and 29 different countries.
“In November, for the first time, we sold a coat to somebody in Russia,” said Behm.
“I found an Elna sewing machine in the thrift shop for $10,” added Russell. “I put it on eBay, and it went to Tasmania for 365 bucks.”
Behm also sold a vintage accordion to a buyer in Switzerland.
“And believe me,” he said, “I know nothing about accordions.”
The volunteers agree the fun of the job comes from that kind of experience.
“The thrill of it is you list it,” said Behm. “And then every day you click on your listings to see if you’re getting any bids or questions.
“When you see that there are people bidding on it, it’s exciting to watch.”
Now Behm has a new goal of getting nine more volunteers on the eBay team. That will give him ten threemember teams listing items every week.
With those numbers, he believes the next $100,000 will come very quickly.
“In the sales game, the more items you offer, the more opportunity you have to sell,” he said. “And that’s our goal.”
The volunteers also agree that the greatest reward comes from knowing all their efforts support a good cause.
“The beauty of this is this is Christ in love and action,” said Ehart. “The eBay team is an example of how good Christians come together and they work together in a mission.
“They’re focused on how to help a charity so that we can help others. So it’s great fellowshipping for them; it’s a great chance to model Christ.”