Take a glove, leave a bat: Clark County program swaps sports gear

VANCOUVER, Wash. - If the shoe fits, Julia Ross will be of no interest to you.

If it doesn't? Give her a call.

Ross recently began the Clark County Exchange Program, with the aim of helping families avoid the high costs of constantly replacing athletic equipment as their children grow.

"I don't care whether it's dirty - I'll clean it up," Ross said. "Whatever the condition, I'll take it.

"Some kids don't have access to proper fitting equipment. Some kids end up quitting sports because they don't have the equipment that they need."

With three children of her own, Ross knows the drill. Every year, there's new cleats, new shoulder pads, new helmets.

It adds up fast, no matter who you are.

"It's not just for low income families - it's for everybody," Ross said. "It's community helping the community. All I'm really doing is organizing the process."

The idea is simple. For the time being, Ross is stockpiling donations. Once she has enough equipment for a basic stockpile of staples, she'll organize an exchange event at the beginning of each sports season.

"At those exchanges, people will be able to bring in something that doesn't fit or they can't use and exchange it for something that does fit and that they can use," she said.

Ross said her kids have participated in just about every sport imaginable - baseball, soccer, softball, basketball - so she's very familiar with the costs.

She just thinks the benefits are more important.

"Kids tend to not get into as much trouble if they have something to participate in," she said. "It's about teaching kids from an early age what it feels like to be physically active.

"They know that when they're sitting at their video game and they start feeling icky, they remember 'When I went to basketball practice I felt better when I got up and ran around, so I'm going to go out and play and I'm going to start feeling better.'"

Ross said she's not soliciting monetary donations - the program isn't a registered non-profit - but she has asked permission to use some of her more big-ticket donations to be given away in a raffle, giving her the flexibility to fill in the most glaring gaps in her stock.

She's drawn so much interest, it's eating up most of her time.

"This last couple weeks have been crazy," she said. "My husband actually pulled away my computer chord and said 'no more work.' It's really been crazy, I've gotten so much community support - it's been really nice."