It’s natural to think the Inner Wheel Club of Baton Rouge started the annual Attic Trash & Treasure Sale, which takes place for the 25th time this weekend.

However, the reverse is also true. It was the sale that created Inner Wheel.

The Rotary Club of Baton Rouge started holding garage sales in 1988 to raise money for Polio Plus, Rotary International’s effort to eradicate the disease worldwide. Rotarians and their spouses participated, with the spouses running the show.

Though the Rotarians hadn’t intended on creating an annual event, there was enough support from the community and Rotary spouses that sales were held for two more years, with the proceeds going to Rotary and local charities.

After the 1990 sale, Rotary President Fred Grace said the club no longer wanted to be involved. However, he discovered Rotary had a spouses’ organization called Inner Wheel.

“We didn’t even know the Inner Wheel existed,” said Ruthie Kean, who had helped direct those early sales and still remains involved.

Grace suggested the local spouses form a club and continue the sale on their own. They did, and the rest is, as they say, history.

Since donating $10,000 to the Mary Bird Perkins Radiation Center, $8,000 to the Hospice Foundation of Greater Baton Rouge and $2,000 to the Baton Rouge Rotary Club, the Inner Wheel’s sale has raised more than $1.7 million for 50 separate charities.

The annual donations have grown fairly steadily and have totalled at least $130,000 each of the past three years.

This year’s main charity will be Families Helping Families of Greater Baton Rouge.

Other charities to receive funds are the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Baton Rouge Youth Coalition, Gardere Community Christian School, Baton Rouge Children’s Advocacy Center, Greater Baton Rouge Hope Academy, Louisiana Key Academy, Louisiana Lupus Foundation and Youth Oasis.

“You think we’d run out of stuff to get, but that’s not our problem,” Kean said. “Our problem is to find places big enough to have the sale. It’s amazing. It really is. It’s just so gratifying.”

This year’s sale will take place at Cortana Mall in the section that formerly housed Mervyn’s department store. There will be 35,000 square feet devoted to all manner of donated items, including jewelry, collectibles, clothing, furniture, sporting goods, electronics, hardware, small appliances, artwork and rugs, said Cheryl Olinde, who joins Lauren Ragland and Cynthia Galmon as this year’s three sale chairwomen.

The Inner Wheel began collecting donations on June 1 and accepted items as late as Tuesday. They set up the Cortana space on Jan. 19 and began moving in items for the sale two days later. The store’s transformation is a sight to behold, Olinde said.

“This year, we had the gentlemen from the Louisiana Youth Challenge program in Carville,” Olinde said. “They came in and helped us set up, and they were unbelievable. We started on Martin Luther King Day. They just came back to help us this past Saturday for our little presale, and they almost fainted when they saw all the merchandise, because they had left us with just empty tables. It was amazing to see their faces when they walked into a fully functioning department store.”