Rosenblum: Economics major clips coupons to help less fortunate

  • Article by: GAIL ROSENBLUM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 13, 2013 - 9:24 PM
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Lindsay Gorelick displayed the many bags of products she bought with coupons for shelter residents.

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Lindsay Gorelick keeps one bottle each of shampoo and conditioner in the duplex bathroom she shares with three roommates. She emphasizes this because her reputation as a coupon-clipping queen is growing and she knows what many people think about coupon clippers.

But Gorelick is no hoarder. She's not nuts like some of the people she sees on the TLC television show "Extreme Couponing."

She is gifted in numbers and details. Couple those strengths with a selfless spirit and you get a 21-year-old applied economics major at the University of Minnesota who, two weeks ago, delivered $3,000 worth of toiletries, cosmetics and food to Tubman's two women's shelters. The 40 bags cost her $38.

"From Day One, I started with the intention of, 'I am going to do this to help other people,'" said Gorelick, who graduates in May. "I have a car. I live in a house with heating. Some people go to bed and they can't wash their hair or brush their teeth."

Tubman spokeswoman Jen Polzin was thrilled with the "van-full" of personal care and nonperishable food items that arrived Jan. 31. "Her gift means we don't have to go out and purchase those items," Polzin said. "Those dollars can go, instead, to providing more support services in these really lean times."

Gorelick, she said, "is just a phenomenal example of how one person can really do something concrete to make a difference and to raise awareness of an issue."

Gorelick, from Milwaukee, moved to the Twin Cities to attend the U. She got a job in dining services to pay her bills, and took the bus to grocery stores, which was eye-opening. "When I'd ring up, I'd think, what? This is too expensive," she said. "There has to be a better way."

Watching "Extreme Couponing," she realized that the most successful participants were those most skilled in math and numbers. "I don't like to say I'm good at things, but I'm good at math," Gorelick said. (Really good. She took a practice Mensa test and scored 28 out of 30.)

"If you ask me about a product, I can tell you the price and the value of the coupon I have. I have a really good memory for numbers. I started this hobby and I knew I'd keep going."

About a year ago, she walked past a father and his two children, mitten-less, asking for change outside a grocery store. She had a better idea. "Will you still be here in 20 minutes?" she asked.

She took out her best buy-one-get-one-free (BOGO) coupons plus others, and bought shampoo, conditioner, soap and Teddy Grahams. She spent $3 for $40 worth of products and gave two big grocery bags to the father.

"Big guy, tattoos," she said. "He started crying. I got in my car and just sobbed, and I don't cry a lot. I decided to stop crying and start doing something."

Gorelick is the younger of two daughters of a doctor father and registered nurse mother. For her Bat Mitzvah project at 13, she collected toiletries for a Milwaukee women's shelter. In high school, she joined a club that planned activities with students with special needs. During her first two years at the U, she volunteered on Saturdays.

"It is our duty to help each other," she said.

A friend told her about Tubman's shelter programs in Minneapolis and Maplewood (www.tubman.org). She shopped for about 20 weeks at 16 different stores, using color-coded binders to keep her coupons organized. She says she does not abuse the system.

"I do not like to push it. If a coupon doesn't scan, I'll take it back and say, 'Thank you for trying.' I've never cleared a shelf. That gives couponing a bad name."

Still, she loves unlimited double-days at Rainbow Foods. So, yes, she gets teased. Gorelick points out that her friends love to knit and paint. She reminds her boyfriend, Matt, that he spends lots of time playing video games. "It's a fun challenge," she said of couponing. "I love the surprise element."

Carrying a full course load and working part time, she sets aside Sundays to cull through newspaper inserts and download coupons from coupons.com. Even Matt helps clip on occasion.

Her father and his friends save circulars for her, as does her New York grandmother. Her mom, who has "no patience for couponing," is warming up, tickled by the attention her daughter's hobby has garnered. (E-mail her if you'd like to help: lindsaygorelick@aol.com).

After posting her Tubman success on the website reddit.com, Gorelick received more than 1,000 comments. Her story has been picked up by various media outlets, as well.

Her next beneficiary is Simpson Housing Services of Minneapolis, which provides emergency housing and support to people facing homelessness. "I really respect their organization," Gorelick said, "especially in a city that's so cold."

She's already shopping for them, and hopes to deliver at least $3,000 worth of goods soon. The best feeling in the world," she said, "is giving it to someone who needs it more than me."

gail.rosenblum@startribune.com • 612-673-7350

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