Blog

March 26, 2021

Women Making History today: The Oakland Museum Women's Board

As we near the end of this year’s Women’s History Month celebration, we want to highlight The Oakland Museum Women’s Board.

by OMCA

Anthropologist Margaret Mead is famously known for saying, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

As we near the end of this year’s Women’s History Month celebration, we want to highlight one particular group of “thoughtful, committed citizens” who continue to make an impact at OMCA:

The Oakland Museum Women’s Board.

If you don’t know who they are, they are the organizers of Oakland’s widely-popular annual White Elephant Sale, the largest rummage sale in Northern California. The Women’s Board is the Oakland Museum of California’s (OMCA’s) single largest supporter with the proceeds they raise from the Sale.

For the last 61 years, the White Elephant Sale has drawn thousands of shoppers to the Women’s Board’s 333 Lancaster Street warehouse in Oakland’s Jingletown neighborhood. Over the first weekend in March, shoppers could comb through a range of quality donated goods, including furniture, artwork, household items, ceramics, sporting goods, fine jewelry, collectibles, music, books, and vintage and contemporary apparel. Since 1959, the Women’s Board has contributed over $27 million to OMCA through the White Elephant Sale. 

Last year’s Sale raised over $2M, the highest annual total yet. And it couldn’t have come at a better or more crucial time for OMCA: just a week later, the Governor of California declared a shelter-in-place mandate due to the growing COVID-19 pandemic.

Looking ahead to this year’s White Elephant Sale,  rather than concede defeat and cancel the in-person event, the Women’s Board embraced the challenge. Under the leadership of Women’s Board President, Sherry Westernoff, they have launched an effort to bring the Sale online for the first time in its 61-year history. This year’s Sale will take place May 1–23.

We sat down “virtually” with Westernoff to ask her about some of the challenges, lessons, and hopes for this year’s online White Elephant Sale. 

 


 

OMCA: First of all, please tell us a little bit about how you got involved with the Oakland Museum Women’s Board (OMWB) and the White Elephant Sale.
Westernoff: I actually first got involved in the Women’s Board through my mother. She was a long-time volunteer, and eventually I got involved while I was in high school. You’ll find that many of our volunteers today have the same story -- their mother, grandmother, aunt, or a close family friend was an OMWB volunteer who introduced them to the White Elephant Sale, and they’ve been involved ever since. Some of our volunteers have been with us for 50+ years!

OMCA: What was the process of adapting the Sale online like?
Westernoff: This is the first year we are hosting the White Elephant Sale entirely online, but we were really motivated to continue supporting OMCA during shelter-in-place. I organized committees and scheduled many meetings to explore the possibility of adapting the Sale online, including logistics, timing, technological needs, volunteer availability, safety protocols, and so on. People were nervous yet excited to see how we could make this happen. I’m so proud of our Board and our volunteers for their commitment under these extraordinary circumstances. It was a true team effort. 

OMCA: What were some of the challenges?
Westernoff: One of our biggest challenges was time. In a normal year, we begin organizing the items at the warehouse in May. Because of shelter-in-place protocols, we weren’t able to begin until October in 2020. Another challenge was a reduction in our volunteer numbers. More than 70% of our returning volunteers are aged 65+, which made them part of the most vulnerable populations for contracting COVID-19. Ensuring that volunteers felt safe, comfortable, and healthy was our main priority, so we made sure that we organized the warehouse to be socially-distanced and created new safety protocols, like mandatory mask-wearing and limiting the number of volunteers per shift. 

OMCA: What are you most excited about?
Westernoff: I’m excited for shoppers to see this new online version of the White Elephant Sale. Our volunteers carefully curated and selected the best items to post for sale online. We challenged ourselves to carry forth the tradition and our commitment to supporting OMCA, while also building a new shopping experience for our returning and new shoppers. I’m so proud of our Board and our volunteers for their commitment under these extraordinary circumstances, when our museums and other cultural institutions really need community support. 

The 62nd Annual White Elephant will be held online Saturday, May 1 through Sunday, May 23. For more information, visit whiteelephantsale.org. We look forward to seeing you there!