I am RIFA – Ellen Bennett
Meet Ellen Bennett, RIFA’s Online Sales Manager. You may know her as the creative genius behind the RIFA Auction Group, where, twice a month, she lists around 75 interesting, unique, and valuable items donated to the RIFA warehouse for the public to bid on and purchase. We sat down with Ellen to learn the behind-the-scenes of her auction process and her time working at RIFA.
When asked how she first heard about RIFA, Ellen said, “I feel like RIFA has sort of been a fixture in this community for years, so much so that I don’t think I really gave it much thought. I knew that there was a Thrift Store. I knew they fed those who needed food. My friend introduced me to the RIFA Auction Group. I remember I was in the hospital with my mother, and I was following the auction and bidding because it was something to help with the stress at the time. There was this little vase, and suddenly that became the most important thing to me. I think I ended up getting it for like $45. So when people go over their budget, I totally get that, because I would do that as well. I would rather my money go here than to some for-profit.”
Ellen’s friend Dawn had the job before she did, and when Ellen found out that Dawn was leaving the position, she asked her to put in a good word for her. Shaun, RIFA’s Assistant Director, called Ellen for an interview. “He took me on a tour of the warehouse. He said, ‘What would you pick here?’ and I was like, ‘I would pick this little painting,’ and I gave him some examples of what you could say about it for the auction, and he was kind of intrigued. I remember leaving and feeling so good about it and so good about this organization. It was the first time that I had ever seen RIFA in that way, to see the full scope of everything that RIFA does.” In May 2020, Ellen started working as the Online Sales Manager. “I was working at ComeUnity Cafe at that time on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I remember thinking when I found out that this job [at the time] was Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays that it was meant to be. It was a real gift to do both for a time. Here, I was raising funds to feed people, and at ComeUnity, I was actually feeding people.”
One of the most notable aspects of the RIFA Auction Group is Ellen’s creative storytelling-style descriptions for the items that she lists. We asked Ellen if she has a background in writing and how she comes up with these unique captions. “I always had an interest in writing. I enjoy words. I am always mentally editing. Even when people are talking to me, I’m spelling the words they just said in my head. Words have always been with me,” she explained. The energy left her as she began to speak about her college major. “I did not know myself as well as I thought I did, and I chose communications, which is fine, but broadcasting and journalism… I’m not a broadcaster. I should’ve known that. I had a minor in English. Words have always been with me. I’m always describing things in my head. So when I took this job, I approached it as ‘These things are special. These things are unique and interesting.’ [A description] can’t just say, ‘This is what this is. These are the measurements,’ and leave it at that. These things have a story to tell. These things are valuable. Just because somebody else doesn’t see the value in it doesn’t mean it’s not valuable. I wanted to convey that. Especially vintage things—for somebody at some point in time, it meant something to them. It can still be redeemed.”
When we asked Ellen how much research she has to do with such a wide range of items in the auctions, she said, “With electronics, that’s where I’d say I need to do the most research. I’ve seen so much milk glass and carnival glass and have done research over the years to figure out when it was the most popular—that it started out as a quarter an item and was given to people when they won carnival games. Now, these pieces are $75 if you’re lucky to find them. It’s repetition, seeing something enough times to recognize it—like jadeite, that’s one of the more unique and hard-to-find things. So when I come across a jadeite sugar shaker, I recognize it and its value. It’s just doing it enough times, retaining enough knowledge about things, and then going to estate sales and yard sales and being able to know what the price should be.”
She continued, “We get lots of beautiful rugs that are flawless. The quality is unbelievable. I’m stunned by just how nice some of these pieces are. There’s a Kitchenaid mixer. There’s a Vitamix blender. Just the quality of the stuff that comes through the donation door amazes me. People are invested in RIFA. They would rather see their things go to RIFA than to someplace else.”
Ellen told us her favorite part about running the auction: “Everything. I don’t know if I can even pick a favorite part. From the coworkers to just everything, I’m so happy to be here. Every day is a gift. Every day, I get to come to work. It’s like playing all the time. I come from a background of ‘why buy new when there are good things to be had?’ so, my daddy and I, we would go get gas station coffee on Saturday mornings and hit the yard sales. It was there that I learned I was a picker. I think I’ve always been a picker. I’ve gotten things off the side of the road, fixed them up, and sold them. There’s no stone I won’t turn over for a deal. I feel like this job extends to that. The picking, the writing, the photographing, the invoicing.”
We are so grateful to have Ellen and her clever and imaginative spirit on the team at RIFA! To see Ellen’s auction listings, make sure to join the RIFA Auction Group, where all proceeds support RIFA’s vision to lead and engage the community in the fight against hunger.
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