La Center mom starts sports equipment exchange

Free program targets families who need help affording gear

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

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Julia Ross has Little League baseball for her son tallied up like this: $20 to $40 for cleats, $20 to $40 for a mitt, something like $20 for a helmet.

Not to mention registration fees of $40 to $80.

Put that all together and you could be talking of hundreds of dollars for one season of one sport. But Ross' three teenage kids — David, Jeannette and Ryan — are busier than that.

What sports have they played? "What sports have they not played?" is the better question, Ross said. The accompanying question: How to afford all that equipment? It hasn't always been easy, she said. The tally for multiple sports for multiple kids across multiple seasons and years can literally reach into the thousands of dollars, she said.

A few years ago, Ross was cleaning out the family garage — digging through all the abandoned cleats and bats and balls — and chatting with her husband about the kids who could use that stuff.

Some teams and leagues provide some of what you need, or already run used-equipment exchanges, she knew — but those resources still can't reach all the families who need a hand affording exactly the right stuff. Those families are the same ones who ought to be spending any extra dollars on the family grocery bill, not sports equipment, she added.

So she hit on the idea of a free, grass-roots, mom-driven, used sports equipment exchange. And she started drawing up a business plan.

"I like to make lists, and I like to make plans," Ross said.

She also likes to do Internet research, she said, and before long she Googled up a mom in Kansas who'd already started the same sort of effort.

The Clark County Equipment Exchange was born. So far, it's operating strictly out of the Ross family garage in La Center — and out of the back of Ross' hatchback — but she (and especially her husband, she said) are eager to move it out of the house and into its own space. Everything is free.

Ross has considered incorporating as a nonprofit, but she figures it would be neater to find an already-existing legal charity whose wing she could operate under. She used to work at the Free Clinic for Southwest Washington, she said, and she's all too familiar with the way sister nonprofits crowd the scene and compete for the same pool of dollars. Meanwhile, she is about to start working with a volunteer mentor she located through SCORE, a nationwide nonprofit that helps small business get off the ground.

And she's been "stalking Facebook" for teams and individuals with used equipment to donate, she said. She's been picking over garage sale leftovers and even shopping Goodwill when she's heard about a particular kid or team with a particular need.

"There's been a lot of support. Everyone keeps saying, 'What a great idea,'" Ross said Wednesday, while picking up a load of soccer equipment that was collected and donated by Salmon Creek Indoor Sports.

Today, Ross will be at a table at the La Center Farmers Market from 4 to 8 p.m., collecting donations and spreading the word. She's hoping to schedule a big, public exchange day in late August — in time for school and the fall sports season — but in the meantime she can be reached at 360-903-8451 or via Facebook at the Clark County Equipment Exchange Program.