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A ray of sunshine amid the darkness of coronavirus

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic comes a feel-good story about caring, about giving those with special needs a purpose, about a non-profit ministry, and about sports collectibles that make it all happen.

Greg Poole 

Greg Poole 

Meet Greg Poole of Can’s Can Ministries in Benton, Ill. He’s a 35-year-old whose life’s purpose is helping others via the nonprofit sale of sports cards and memorabilia. He has donated computers, classroom libraries, teaching materials, and school supplies to over 100 classrooms in more than 30 school districts in the region.

“We help out by purchasing wardrobes and shoes for students, and beds and bedding, and Christmas presents for local foster and at-risk children,” Poole told SCD. “We work with local assisted living facilities to purchase toiletries and other basic necessities for their elderly residents.”

All from the sale of sports collectibles.

For the past 15 years as Can’s Can Ministries, Poole has been taking 100 percent of the proceeds from sales of sports collectibles from his own collection and helping those in need. He started selling at card shows and was eventually given space at the County Seat Antique Mall in Benton.

“I have been a lifelong collector and hobby shop junkie so it was always a dream to be a professional wheeler and dealer,” Poole said. “As I got into high school and college, I had some wonderful teachers who exposed me to the needs in our community. It was then that I realized that the collections I had amassed could be used for good.”

Now he’s readying to go a step further. Poole plans to open his own sports card and memorabilia shop as a nonprofit. Originally, he hoped to open by the end of March, but that was delayed by the coronavirus outbreak and the stay-at-home edict from the Illinois governor.

“We are still moving forward with the physical location; the space required some work so this has given me some time to work on that,” he said. “We are still going strong with online sales, which has allowed us to continue to serve those in need during this situation.

“With schools having been cancelled, we have been working on improving children's home lives by purchasing groceries, bill assistance, and purchasing technology as needed for e-learning. We are also ramping up our elderly care by purchasing toiletries, since there is a massive shortage here, and food. With many of the elderly confined to their rooms we have also been purchasing TVs and radios as many do not currently have them in their rooms.”

The reasons for opening a shop are threefold:

To increase sales. “The needs in our area are ever growing and changing; we have branched out from children and senior care, which is our main focus, to include housing, utilities, food needs, and the list keeps growing,” he said.

To appeal to the collecting community. “To grow, I have realized that I cannot solely just rely on my collection alone anymore,” he said. “By expanding and (establishing) our 501c3 status, I hope to attract those in the sports card/baseball community who wish to use this hobby for philanthropic purposes.”

To give special needs kids in the area meaningful work and training. “My wife teaches a life skills class at the local high school and it is a struggle to find opportunities to expose these kids to real life situations, training, and social situations, so we decided to make our own,” he explained.

As soon as the governor’s order is lifted, Poole will reevaluate manpower availability to decide an opening day. Poole, whose regular job is in the control room of a power plant/coal mine, plans to open three days a week with him running the shop two days and the special needs students running it the other, with teachers present.

So where does he get inventory?

Bobby Knight donated two autographed folding chairs for the cause. 

Bobby Knight donated two autographed folding chairs for the cause. 

Poole reaches out to athletes and managers, and gets a 60 percent rate of return. One of the coolest things he got was two signed folding chairs from former Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight, known for his tossing a chair across a court during a game.

“Recently I sold a 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth for $1,700,” he said. “Cardinals items sell really well in our area (with St. Louis the nearest big city). In the past few years, we’ve had an Ozzie Smith game-used jersey and a game-used Bob Gibson jersey sell in the four-figure range.”

Poole sells a broad range of items, but baseball sells the best. The average price he fetches is in the $20 to $50 range. “We sell a lot of certified autographs in that range,” he said.

As for helping this cause, people can donate in-kind items for use in fundraising or use as donations to local children, or they can shop online at canscanbenton.org.

“This is a hobby that we can all do great things with,” he said.

Dave Strege is Editor of SCD. You can reach him at dstrege@aimmedia.com