Seniors Turn Discards Into Dollars

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The knick-knacks and gewgaws come from Floral Park, Stewart Manor, Bellerose Village, and New Hyde Park. They come from Suffolk County and Manhattan. And a band of web-savvy seniors use eBay to turn them into money that supports their recreation center. It all began when retired executive Leonard Bloom first taught his “How To Sell On eBay” class for The Great Neck Senior Center and the enthusiasm of the participants inspired him.

“The center always needs money—they feed 100 people a day,” Bloom says. “I got this idea about selling merchandise and giving the proceeds to the center.” It would give the seniors from the class a practical exercise of their newly acquired skills, and help support the center’s activities. The students in the group enthusiastically accepted Lenny’s challenge, and Director Ann Tarcher gave the go-ahead.

That was four years ago, and since then the group has turned an array of unwanted items from donors into thousands of dollars.

The first windfall donation was an attic full of Lionel Trains still in their original boxes, and many gifts since have likewise been true collectibles. Last year two donors, one from Manhasset, the other from Port Washington, gave a collection of 16mm films—Charlie Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy, the D-Day invasion—and a third gave a working 16mm projector. The Chaplin was shipped to Spain. The projector, which sold for just $49, cost some $300 to ship to its buyer in Shanghai. The group has sent mink coats to Russia and Poland. The range of items is impressive: they recently sold an antique metal sextant, and also a Betty Boop doll. They’ve even found buyers for partially used bottles of perfume.

The hardest part, according to Bloom, is getting the stuff to sell. “All of the merchandise is donated by friends or participants at the center, members of the board, golf buddies,” says Bloom. To sweeten the pot, the group will give donors cash for 50 percent of profits from the sale of their item, plus a tax deduction for donating the remaining half to the Social Center. They’ll take donated item from anywhere, and have sold treasures that came from all over Long Island, Manhattan and beyond. “Our best target is people who are moving, who want to clear out their houses,” Bloom notes.  

In fact, on a recent Tuesday morning, he was waiting for a school bus to help carry off the possessions that one Lake Success family moving to Albuquerque did not want to take with them. That haul includes an unwrapped complete 64-volume set of “Great Books of the Western World,” which Bloom says will be a tremendous bargain for the buyer because “books don’t sell all that well.” That donation also includes a painting by an artist whose works are selling for $2,500 in galleries.

As charities go, this one is particularly frugal, with everything but the fees to eBay and Paypal donated. “Everything except expenses goes to the senior center,” says Bloom.

“No volunteer has ever taken a penny.”   

Those volunteers, mostly retired, mostly women, are a hardy core of Bloom’s course graduates. Bloom first learned about computers while serving in the Army during the Korean War, in which they were used to break codes. “It opened my eyes to the potential and it’s been a hobby ever since,” he says. Now, more than a few computer generations later, he’s passing along the skills for the center’s seniors to leverage technology for their own benefit. And, of course, the benefit of all who use the Great Neck Senior Center.

To make a merchandise donation or inquire about eBay classes, please contact Lenny Bloom at gnseniors@yahoo.com or 516-902-4042.

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