Free swap meet lets Chicago-area parents give and get kids’ items

Two women have turned child growth spurts into big business. After having three children each, Maggie Pawelko and Angelika Babich—friends since high school—know what it’s like to accumulate tons of clothing, most of which is worn only a handful of times before it’s outgrown.

So they started getting together with friends to swap their gently used clothing. Before long, they had a better idea.

“We said, ‘Why don’t we help even more people,’” says Babich, a former hair stylist from Mount Prospect.

So Swapadventure was born in October 2013.

Parents attend events at locations ranging from Party Time Palace in Des Plaines to Xtreme Trampolines in Buffalo Grove, for free.

Their only entry fee is a bag of gently used clothing (or strollers, puzzles, etc.).

Pawelko, a former accountant, also from Mount Prospect, and Babich organize everything for the first hour of the event while the children play and the adults hang out.

Then it’s go time.

There’s no limit to how much people can take home, and everything is free.

Pawelko says it’s all about reusing, recycling, saving money and having fun. Whatever is left over after an event is donated to shelters.

Nikki Baugh, a Palatine mother of two girls ages 3 and 4, has gone to nine of Swapadventure’s events.

“I have brought my daughters’ clothes they’ve outgrown, packages of diapers we no longer needed, toys my kids no longer play with and books that just aren’t favorites anymore,” Baugh says. And she can’t get over the loot she’s dragged home, including party dresses, a new package of wall stickers, like-new furry boots, toys, books, a lamp and a tricycle.

Babich and Pawelko know that if the kids aren’t having fun, it’ll be difficult for the parents to browse, so they usually stock their events with princesses, child-friendly locations that come with climbing areas, and food.

Maricris Calica, a mom to two daughters, loves the entertainment.

“The kids have bounced in bouncy houses, sat in train rides and played in arcade games, all free,” she says. “Swapadventure not only hosts their events in kid-friendly and fun spaces, but they have local vendors stay to do face painting and glitter tattoos for the kids. On top of that, a Swapadventure princess is always around for photos and hugs—one thing my princess daughters look forward to.”

Calica’s family has even started a new tradition: A Swapbag. Anytime they get new items for the home, they let go of something they don’t need anymore. That way, they’re always ready for their next event.

The best part about Swapadventure for Joanne Palomeno, a mom of two, is how much the group serves entire communities—and everyone gets helped for free.

Local venues benefit because families discover the new places, and the businesses can bring in new customers. The clothing gets recycled, and there are also free raffles.

“What I loved most about the events are how everyone works together,” says Palomeno, who has walked away with diapers, formula, a Lalaloopsy doll, trucks and Ralph Lauren clothing.

So far, Babich and Pawelko have hosted more than 15 events, the majority of which have been in the northwest suburbs, but they plan on more around the state and then expand nationwide.

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