- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 29, 2005

Received a loser of a holiday gift? The Baltimore-based Lutheran Services in America wants your castoff treasures for its first online auction on EBay to raise at least $500,000.

There are no return lines at the mall for the baby clothes, John Wayne paintings, dolls, European crystal, 1 million baseball cards, 1947 DeSoto car and other items that Lutheran Services will be selling on the site. Also available are a Hmong needlework rug; vacations in Vail, Colo., Hawaii and Turkey; a Faberge plate of a red-throated hummingbird; and a recumbent tricycle.

And then there’s the 300-pound, 11-foot-high wooden giraffe. The folks at LSA headquarters call it “Grace,” a key theological concept in Lutheranism.

“We received it as a gift from a guy in California who himself got it as a gift,” said Robin Milligan, a spokeswoman for LSA.

The funds will go to more than 50 Lutheran social-service organizations helping prisoners, the elderly and other disadvantaged groups. Although the auction is not until Feb. 26 to March 8, the Lutheran cup is already overflowing, with 200 donations on its www.LutheranServices.org site.

The auction was the brainchild of LSA President and Chief Executive Officer Jill Schumann, who decided to dub the gift exchange “Trading Graces.” She also wanted a piece of the growing American tendency to donate online.

“We were trying to think creatively but also to take advantage of online fundraising,” Mrs. Milligan said. “Online donations at the largest U.S. charities were 53 percent of all donations last year.”

After getting a $500,000 grant from investment firm Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, LSA hired a fundraiser to organize the auction, then began soliciting.

The giraffe was one of the first items to show up at organization’s Inner Harbor office.

Image One PR Consulting in Rockville is using the term “re-gifting” to put a more glamorous spin on the sanctified white elephant sale. LSA staff came up with a tagline for the effort — “Because everyone has something to give.”

“There are ways nearly everyone can get involved in this, whether giving or buying,” Ms. Schumann said.

Its U.S. Virgin Islands branch, she added, is throwing in some free hotel rooms near its many beaches.

LSA arranged with MissionFish, EBay’s charity division, to host Trading Graces for a small fee.

Lutheran agencies scoured the country for donated items to post on the site. Once there is a buyer, the sponsoring agency packages the item and mails it out.

As for how to ship the giraffe, “He has been crated up,” Ms. Schumann said.

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