DELTA, Ohio — At 86 years old, Oneta Proudfoot isn’t likely to jet off to Zambia.
Same goes for Ecuador. Or Mexico. Or, really, any of the foreign countries where she or her husband have served as missionaries over the years.
But Ms. Proudfoot hasn’t lost her interest in missionary work. She does her part each Tuesday, when she and a cluster of volunteers spend hours at her church, Shiloh Christian Union Church in Delta, sorting through donated necklaces, bracelets, and earrings.
The jewelry is dumped, unceremoniously, from cardboard boxes into heaps on the table in front of them. Untangling and organizing the piles are the first of many steps that culminate in the sort of large-scale sales that, on a good day, can raise $23,000 for local and international charities.
“We used to go on mission trips all the time and we don’t anymore,” said Ms. Proudfoot, who chatted on a recent Tuesday while extricating delicate strands from the mounds of chains and beads. “So this is a way we can help with missions.”
Ms. Proudfoot and her husband, who spends evenings at their nearby home working on the worst-tangled chains, are two of the approximately 100 volunteers behind Jewelry For Missions, a ministry that stretches across 10 multi-denominational churches in the region. These volunteers sort, clean, package and sell donated jewelry for $2 each — regardless of piece’s retail value — at seven or so sales each year.
Their next sale is set for Sept. 21-23 at Shiloh Christian Union Church, 2100 County Rd. 5, Delta, Ohio. It will run 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day.
Shiloh Christian Union Church hosts Jewelry For Missions, and its mission board is responsible for allocating the entirety of the funds raised at each sale. In addition to supporting a wide variety of regional outreach programs, including Toledo-based agencies like Cherry Street Mission Ministries, the board sends this money to overseas ministries in regions like Africa and Latin America.
Senior Pastor Chuck Whitmire praised Jewelry For Missions as a creative and effective way to support the mission-oriented focus of the church, which, in addition to supporting local charities, annually sends four to six teams of volunteers abroad for one- to two-week trips.
“It fits into what we do wonderfully because Jesus’ commandment to the church was, ‘Go into the world and preach the Gospel,’” Pastor Whitmire said. “We call it the great commission in the Bible. … so missions is inherently vital to what the DNA of the church really is.”
Vintage costume jewelry sales don’t necessarily fit into the standard repertoire of church fund-raisers, and Pastor Whitmire admitted that, when a church member with a background in jewelry first pitched the idea to him, he wasn’t sure it would work. But, since Jewelry For Mission staged its first sale in 2003, volunteer Darlene Daugherty said they have yet to be short on hands or on donations.
Community members drop off the donated jewelry at any of the involved churches throughout the year or during their periodic sales, which typically take place at churches in Delta and Tiffin and Burton, Mich. (Jewelry For Missions will host its first sale in Holland, through the veteran-focused nonprofit The Arms Forces, in late November; the ministry posts sale details on its Facebook page, bit.ly/2wjOPK2.)
The donated haul is splayed across the table on Tuesdays, when the process starts with volunteers sorting through pieces and tossing broken or damaged ones into a central box. These, too, will be up for sale, but packaged in bags that sell for $8 and tend to be popular with crafters. Volunteers gather other days during the week to clean and package the pieces, including arranging matching earring sets on cardboard rectangles, in advance of sales.
The undamaged pieces that remain on the table on Tuesday range widely in value. While some seem to have been pulled from a child’s plastic jewelry box, volunteers guess others could sell for hundreds of dollars at an online auction.
Recent finds include Pandora beads, Swarovski crystal and vintage rhinestones.
A bakelite necklace that passed through volunteers’ hands recently piqued more interest, to some in the group, for its unusualness than for its attractiveness. The style of pressed plastic saw its heyday in the ‘30s.
Unearthing a piece like this is part of the fun for volunteers, whose friendly chitchat throughout the evening is punctuated with exclamations: “Oh, look how beautiful,” one said recently, holding up a delicate leaf-patterned necklace for the group to admire. Another waggled a gemstone-laden finger at a friend a few minutes later: “Here’s one you might like.”
Ms. Daugherty said organizers have resisted the temptation to price jewelry above $2, even for their rarest or most unusual pieces. That, in part, maintains consistency with the original vision for the ministry. It also bolsters sales — it’s easy to get carried away when everything is so cheap — and makes the jewelry accessible to those who wouldn’t be likely to otherwise step up to a jewelry counter.
The volunteers themselves, for the most part, aren’t drawn to the ministry out of an affinity for silver or sparkles. Dawn Thompson admitted with a laugh that she doesn’t even like to wear jewelry, her wedding ring included most days.
Rather, it’s the mission that draws them to the table each week.
That’s the case for Ms. Proudfoot and her sister, Rena Gramling, who sort side by side. They said family members introduced them to the ministry. Ms. Thompson said she likes to say a prayer over each piece before she tucks it away in the proper bag.
Robin Evans, for her part, credits a recent stay in Zambia as her motivation to sort jewelry in Delta on Tuesdays and to clean it in Liberty Center, Ohio, on Thursdays each week.
“I saw firsthand what this does,” the church member said, recalling the poverty she saw there. “They might go without food if we didn’t do this. I think we can spare a little time to help people out.”
To connect with Jewelry For Mission to donate or volunteer, contact Shiloh Christian Union Church at 419-822-4261.
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