It all started with hand-me-downs in Huntsville.

Elizabeth Stitt used to love giving her old clothes to neighborhood girls. When one of those girls died of cancer, she wanted to give even more. So she started a garage sale to raise money for charity. Ten years and $25,000 later, the garage sale still lives on, even though she's on an LDS Church mission.

When Stitt was 13, she had clothes that she handed down to her sister Katie. Katie handed them down to a neighbor girl, Elisabeth Hillstrom, and her sisters.

The Stitt sisters loved to give the clothes away because "it was fun to see them dressed up in our clothes," Elizabeth Stitt said in an e-mail.

When she was 6 years old, Elisabeth Hillstrom was diagnosed with a soft-tissue tumor. She went through chemotherapy and radiation to fight the cancer.

"We got an extra year with her because of that," her father, Mike Hillstrom, said.

In the course of the cancer treatment, Elisabeth lost her hair. The hand-me-downs continued coming.

"I remember giving her one of my favorite hats," Stitt recalled.

Because Elisabeth had cancer, her family contacted the Make-A-Wish foundation, which grants wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses.

The wishes are various and diverse. About half are Disney related, and others range from meeting celebrities to pets and more. "We had one little boy who wanted to be a train conductor," said Kandis Johnson, wish hospitality coordinator for Make-a-Wish.

In order for a child to be considered for a wish grant, that child must get a medical authorization from a doctor, after which he or she meets with a wish grantor. When a wish is decided upon, the doctor must approve the wish based on the medical condition of the recipient.

Because of the seriousness of the life-threatening diseases, Johnson said the children lose their childhoods. Being granted a wish can help make up for the lost childhood.

Elisabeth asked for a horse. The foundation gave her a horse named Carrots and a year's supply of feed.

"She also got a little cowgirl outfit," said Leslie Stitt, mother of the Stitt girls.

Her father said she asked for the horse as a selfless act — she asked for a wish her sister would enjoy. But Elisabeth didn't get to enjoy her wish long.

"She only got to ride it once or twice," Mike Hillstrom said.

Two weeks after she got Carrots and a month after her seventh birthday, Elisabeth died. Elizabeth Stitt was devastated.

"I felt pretty empty inside," Elizabeth Stitt said, "and it was worse because I couldn't attend the funeral because of another commitment I had."

She wanted to do something to thank the Make-A-Wish foundation and something to honor the memory of Elisabeth. So in the summer of 1999 she organized a garage sale and donated the money to the foundation in memory of Elisabeth Hillstrom. The sale raised $200.

The following year she had another garage sale and raised even more money. The tradition continued year after year with more items donated and more people volunteering.

"It just kept growing," Leslie Stitt said.

And Elizabeth Stitt was at the forefront of the drive, with her sister Katie close behind. It was so important to Stitt that she planned her life around the sale. She often did her brother's chores so he would drive her around to collect items for the fundraiser.

The garage sale raised so much money over the years they were able to sponsor a child for the Make-a-Wish foundation and started donating money to area hospitals' infant bereavement programs. These programs give items to parents whose infants have died.

Over the years, Stitt almost never gave up the reins.

"Even when she was at BYU, she organized the whole thing," Leslie Stitt said of her daughter.

She only let go when she went on a mission to Brazil. However, women in the neighborhood did not want to let the tradition die, so it lives on in her absence, according to mother Cindy Hillstrom. She said it takes 10 people to do what Elizabeth Stitt did, but she's grateful the neighborhood has kept it alive without her.

The small Huntsville garage sale has since bloomed into something bigger.

"It's no longer Huntsville; we now call it Ogden Valley Charity Garage sale," Leslie Stitt said.

In its nine years of operation, the garage sale has raised $25,000.

The Hillstrom family is also still involved with the garage sale. They've held it at their house for nine of the 10 years. With the sheer number of items gathered, it is now held in the Hillstroms' corral.

"This is such a good cause; we can't let it go," Cindy Hillstrom said.

The 10th Ogden Valley Charity Garage Sale will continue today, starting at 8 a.m. at 9520 E. 400 South in Huntsville. All proceeds will go to charity and are tax deductible.

Because of countless donors and volunteers, many sick children's wishes have come true and many parents comforted over the years.

And it all started with hand-me-downs.


E-mail: lwilde@desnews.com