Ev Prather, longtime volunteer at the giant rummage sales held twice each year in the Far Hills Fairground for the benefit of the has a suspicion that the little coconut man in her household department has been seen on the sale's shelves before.
With countless donated items sorted into 24 "departments" already set up on Thursday at the fairgrounds, it's not surprising that some of the merchandise might be making a repeat appearance at an event that's been going on for some 90 years.
"It's amazing we get so much stuff," said Patricia Neal, who along with Katie Dooley has for several years taken on the monumental volunteer task of co-chairing the massive fundraising sale for three days over the first weekend of every April and October. "This community gives and gives and gives."
Prater, a Far Hills resident who also is former chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Basking Ridge-based VNA, said that every single item sold at the rummage sale helps provide nursing care for uninsured and underinsured residents in Morris and Somerset counties.
Sale scheduled for this Friday, Saturday and Sunday
At $4, the coconut man is one of the more whimsical items offered at the sale, to be held this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Scheduled hours are 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Sunday. The fairgrounds is at the intersection of Routes 202 and 512. On site parking is free.
The rummage sale offers many practical items also — which is why the sale attracts people from throughout the region and even out of state — including childrens, womens and mens clothing, toys, sports equipments, furniture, appliances, books, Halloween costumes and much more.
The sheer volume as well as the quality of items donated from the nearby area can be somewhat surprising — although not for those who have shopped or volunteered at the sale for many years.
The curtains and draperies department has designer pillows, and "beautiful" window hangings, "some of which have never even been put up," said Ellen Eastty of Millington, who has taken on responsibility for that department.
As she spoke, one customer at Thursday's "friends and family" preview sale for volunteers purchased a few boxes of curtain rods that had never been opened.
The giving that comes from the surrounding Somerset Hills towns and other area communities also is illustrated by the willingness of more than 400 volunteers to donate time to the event. Some may pitch in for just a few hours and others who are around for much of the duration of the sale, the co-chairs say.
Prater credited Dooley and Neal with increasing the organization of how the sale is presented, which in turn has caused it to grow.
Not all volunteers are from the immediate area. Sarah Johnson came from Short Hills to help organize and staff the household items department. "The VNA took care of my grandparents before they passed away," she explains.
There also is a lot of light-hearted esprit de corps among volunteers. Bettina Parolari of the Millington section of Long Hill Township said her husband, Willy, deserves a little recognition for volunteering by her side in the curtains and draperies department. "He's the only man here who works with pillows."
Some of the volunteers bring talents to their particular departments.
George Helmke, 93, a longtime Basking Ridge resident who once worked in the integrated circuit department of Bell Labs, volunteers in the electronics department, where he mainly is in charge of optics — binoculars, cameras and telescopes.
Some of the telescopes come in missing pieces, he said, but he keeps a few spares around to provide parts.
Helmke also rummaged through a selection of Polaroid cameras, and was able to knowingly discuss their usefulness. He pointed to one, priced at $1, which he said mainly is a collector's item.
However, another priced at $3 can still be used thanks to a group of former Polaroid employees based in Belgium who still sell film on the internet, Helmke said.
Although many of the volunteers come back year after year, and sale after sale, Helmke may take the cake for consistency. He said he has helped out at 56 sales, over about 28 years.
Since the VNA is a health care agency, flu shots also are being provided all three days, from 9:30 to about 2:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and from 12:30 p.m. to about 2:30 p.m. on Sunday.
The shots are free for those with Medicare B coverage or $25, cash or check, for others.
Boy Scouts Troop 53 of Bedminster-Far Hills sells hot dogs, burgers and more for hungry shoppers.
Friday generally is the busiest day of the sale, Dooley said. On Sunday, each department decides how to quickly sell as much merchandise as possible, with some choosing to set one price for bagsfull of items. Leftover items are donated to select charities, the co-chairs said.