The Free Store
A generous community’s response to families in need
November 16, 2016, Brunswick, Maine: Clothes, shoes, dishes, toys, and books fill every corner of the Community Services Center/Clothing Bank (Center). Almost everything at the Center is given away free. No one is denied service. Dr. Alice Cunningham Spindler, long term director and now an assistant director states, “We are able to provide this service because of the generosity of the Brunswick / Topsham Maine, community. We are so grateful.”
The impact on the community is astounding. According to the statistics provided by Alberta Harlow who, until recent illness, was the secretary/treasurer for the Center, the Center gives out more than 1600 items to more than 100 families (250 individuals) weekly. The volunteers log more than 150 hours a week. By the end of this year, the Center will have registered over 1000 families.
Many customers have gathered complete wardrobes, having lost or, by necessity, left everything. Several families return each year to outfit their children for school. Although some sizes are rare, there are customers who patiently return, week after week, until they find something that fits.
Nancy Gowell, the secretary, tells of recent customers (names and details changed to protect identity). Donnah came to the desk elated, “I just got a job. Thanks to you I can dress for it!” Clara, with baggy clothes and sagging cheeks, carried an armload of clothes to the checkout, “I have cancer and have lost weight,” she almost whispered. “I can’t thank you enough!” As I observe, I see Clark, waiting until no one is around. “I just got a mattress,” he explains to the hostess. “Do you have sheets, and maybe a blanket?”
This time of year there is a demand for blankets and warm clothes. I saw the joy of a young woman facing a winter in unheated quarters as she was handed a down comforter. Carl Koester, director for the Center, reports that
they currently have a store of blankets and coats, but that, with the anticipated cold winter, every donation of winter bedding and wear will be appreciated.
The Center was the first to locate at the campus which also houses The Gathering Place and Mid Coast Hunger Prevention food pantry and soup kitchen. In fact, The Gathering Place got its start in the Center building in 2011, moving racks in and out of the large room to transition between the two groups. They moved into their new building in September this year. The campus is just off of Union Street, behind Hannafords, but the addition of The Gathering Place’s building brought with it a new street designation, Tenney Way. The Center’s address is now 1 Tenney Way, Brunswick. They are open Mondays from 4-5:45 pm and Wednesdays from 9:30-11:45 am and 1-2:45 pm. All are welcome—no questions asked.
“Our building,” reports the director, “is showing its age, and it is time for repairs—the most noticeable being the sagging porch and ramp and rotting window frames—so we are again going to our generous community, this time for financial assistance.” He reports that, for the next few weeks, friends of the Center will be approaching the local businesses, sharing with them the work of the Center and giving them and their workers an opportunity to participate in the funding drive. Their fundraising has gone techie. They have a site online through Hope for Humanity where we all can donate. Go to https://hope4.fundly.com/thefreestore-brunswickmaine, give a donation and post the link to social network. Let the world know about the generosity of Brunswick!
At the end of our interview, our former director and most faithful worker, Dr Alice (85 years), who delivered many Brunswick babies at Parkview, smiled her gentle smile and said, “And, let me say one more thing: It is a privilege to volunteer here, and I mean it!”