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A neighborly gesture

Oak Hills rummage sale raises $4,000 to benefit veterans' families

What started as a low-key neighborhood yard sale in Oak Hills transformed last weekend into a community-wide shopping event that netted thousands of dollars to benefit the families of war veterans.

Organized by neighbors of Oak Hills' Eastway Court, the second annual Benefit for the Oregon War Veterans Association's Family Support Program took in $4,064 from sales of donated goods - clothing, furniture, plants, knickknacks, even a framed portrait of John Wayne - held Friday and Saturday at the Oak Hills Recreation Center.

The amount surpassed the organizers' goal by tripling last year's $1,300 take from a much smaller inaugural sale on Eastway Court. Proceeds from the two events were directed through the veterans group to three families of the Oregon National Guard's 162nd Engineering Battalion.

Sandy Markle, who coordinated the event with her husband, Phil, a U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam War, said she was blown away by the turnout and amount of money raised.

'We're very excited about that,' she said. 'We sent a check to (the veterans group), and they were thrilled, just thrilled.'

Markle said it didn't take long after the doors to the rec center's gymnasium opened on a warm, clear Friday morning for furniture and other larger items to start flying out the door.

The crowd ebbed and flowed throughout both days, but Markle and the 15 or so volunteers - all Eastway Court neighbors - sensed they had a winning event on their hands.

'We felt early on Saturday that we were gonna hit that goal,' she said. 'We had some generous people come in. They'd come in and buy something at the marked price and round it up. It was a constant flow of people.'

The idea started in 2010 when the close-knit neighborhood decided it needed to find a worthy cause to embrace.

'George Middleberger said, 'How about returning vets?'' she recalled the Army Air Corps veteran suggesting. 'And we said, 'That's it!''

As she worked with the war veterans group, Markle was astounded by stories she heard about injured veterans of the Afghanistan mission waiting for months and even years without receiving benefit checks from the U.S. government.

'I just couldn't believe they weren't being taken care of,' she said.

Last year's Eastway Court paved the way for this spring's more expansive event at the recreation center.

The volunteers put the word out and started gathering donations around January. A committee worked out the details, and neighbors pitched in with their time, energy and resources.

Gloria Middleberger, 86, who has lived in Oak Hills with her husband, George, since 1974, said the sale represents a special camaraderie the neighbors - particularly those on Eastway Court - nurture and enjoy.

'You know how life goes,' she observed. 'You wave at your neighbor when you see them, and that's it. We said, 'Why don't we get together?' It's a fun group, and a great way to know our neighbors.'

Markle said she knew they had picked the right cause when a customer started to present her with a donation check for $300.

'He started asking questions about veterans' families,' she said. 'Then as I was talking, he ripped up the check and wrote out another one for $500.'

For more information or to donate to the Oregon War Veterans Association's Family Support Program, visit www.owva.org/home .