For eons, the Starr-King Rummage sale has functioned as a seasonal rite of passage throughout the South Coast, somewhat akin to the role played by Groundhog Day or the start of spring training elsewhere. The sale — a massive pop-up long before the term was minted — can be counted on to offer a sprawling cornucopia of high-quality items — from kids shoes to household furniture with everything in-between for ridiculously reasonable prices.
This March 11 — just four days shy of the ides of March — the Starr-King sale will be held for the first time ever in the La Cumbre Plaza parking lot right by the former Sears building. For $20, early birds will be granted first access from 7-8 a.m. Otherwise admission is free.
In years past, the sale — having outgrown the Starr-King premises — was held at Earl Warren Showgrounds. In addition to the exhaustively curated treasure trove of recycled goods, there will be baked goods and gourmet breakfasts on hand, offering shoppers a chance to talk with their mouths full as they bump into old friends — and new — while catching up on life. The proceeds go to underwriting the annual costs of Starr-King — a parent-child workshop (not a day care provider) run under the auspices of Santa Barbara City College’s adult education program.
Starr-King — named after Thomas Starr-King, the famed Unitarian firebrand and stemwinder of the 19th century and credited by Abraham Lincoln for keeping California out of the Civil War — is now entering its 75th year of operation in Santa Barbara. From the outset of its inception, the point has been to educate parents about the developmental stutter steps their young children can be expected to take. Translated into plainer language, Starr-King has reassured countless generations of parents that their kids — from 2 and nine months of age until 5 — have not already fallen hopelessly behind. Every child, parents are taught, learns and progresses at their own rates; except for rare instances, panic is not called for.
Parents absorb these lessons by putting in hours of mandatory volunteer service. Representatives of all families have to put in volunteer time in “the classroom,” working one weekday morning a week and attending a two-hour meeting every Tuesday evening, loosey-goosey enough to be enjoyable but structured enough to impart real information. Mostly they learn how to stay out of their kids’ way while helping to create an environment engineered to promote a very tactile variant of hands-on learning.
During the COVID shut-down — Zoom meetings for kids that young were not really an option — Starr-King director Yolanda Medina-Garcia dropped off learning materials at the households of every student enrolled. Even so, about half the families fell out of the program. Some parents — needing to work — had to send their kids to other childcare providers. Medina-Garcia says she expects enrollment to return to pre-pandemic levels this coming fall. For those able to put in the hours, the rewards are immediate and obvious. For $300 a month, they can get a childcare experience that would cost $1,000 anywhere else. (Revenues generated by the rummage sale — estimated to be about $28,000 — are key to maintaining these affordable rates.)
Also hard-wired into the Starr-King curriculum is an expanded – and enduring — sense of community; for parents and children alike, friendships and connections forged at Starr-King will extend well past the foreseeable future. Adding a bittersweet touch, this will be the last rummage sale for Medina-Garcia — who has been at the helm for 25 years — as well as her second-in-command, Bonnie Kerwin. Between the two of them, Median-Garcia and Kerwin have 80 years in the trenches of early childhood education. At Starr-King, they’ve put in 35 years combined. At first blush, this might seem like the Thelma and Louise school of succession management. But Kerwin’s replacement — Diana Kinsey — has been on the job and learning the ropes the past six months. No successor has been selected yet for Medina-Garcia.