More in News
Furnace for Free Store draws near
MEXICO -- Without a new furnace, the Free Store would have to close for the winter months and Santa's Helpers would not have a place to operate.
However, thanks to business and individual donations, the closure scare appears to have been averted, according to Director Margaret McNeal.
"It's an uphill battle," she noted, adding the roof at the former Knights of Columbus Hall at 33 Roxbury Rd. also needs to be replaced, there's $800 in insurance costs and there's the cost of oil and utilities.
"But the public responds and businesses give," said McNeal, adding that fortunately, they have a full tank of oil to start the winter season.
McNeal said she believes the roof will hold up for another winter, although she admitted she was "petrified" with the approach of Tropical Storm Irene. "We did get some water damage, on the roof over the stairs."
Recently, the Free Store received a $1,700 check as a result of NewPage's voucher program. Combined with the $2,300 raised with the Free Store yard sale in July, and they getting closer to the $7,200 quote they received for the new furnace plus installation.
Last week, McNeal said they got a call to pick up donated bottles to cash in that totalled $33.40. Then they received a private donation of $1,000.
McNeal said more than 400 people a week come through the Free Store's doors. Volunteer Shawn Bentley, who does the maintenance on the building, noted "We move close to four tons of clothing and furniture a month."
To get an idea what this means, Bentley said that a week ago the Free Store received five truckloads of furniture. In four days, all of it had been claimed.
Of course, running the Free Store is much more than moving merchandise. There are a number of personal stories from people who are in need. "It's the world we live. Kids having kids. They need our help," noted Bentley, adding, "Until you have worked here, you don't realize all the people around you who are down and out."
Tears welled up on McNeal as she told the story of a family of four who visited the Free Store last year.
The couple, who homeschooled their two kids, wore tattered clothes and their children were not wearing socks. The volunteers at the Free Store were able to find a couple of dresses for the children, and socks, and other clothes for the family. They also put together a collection of paper, pens and pencils.
"The man then went to his car and came back and put a handful of change in the donation box before saying 'Sorry. It's all I have.' That is what this is all about," noted McNeal.
McNeal said they have a three-page list of people's needs.
And of course, this time of year, there are a lot of people looking for school clothes. By coincidence, the Free Store has been receiving a lot of children's clothing.
McNeal said another example was that she got a note from a lady in Mexico who had a couch she wanted to donate. By coincidence, Becky Skibitsky informed McNeal that she knew a woman who needed a couch. It turned out to be the perfect fit as the couch even fit the decor of the woman's livingroom.
"It just confirms my faith. It's my mother watching over us."
Her mother, the late Dot Sanchas, started this labor of love some 35 years ago, working from home, out of her car, and at various other locations. During this time, this service has provided clothing and essential household items at no charge, as well as providing Christmas to the area's needy children through Santa's Helpers.
This is also about the time that attention begins to turn to the far-reaching Santa's Helpers program, which served over 400 children last year.
McNeal said she anticipates the demand for the program will mean even more children will need their services this Christmas season. She said one item they anticipate needing an ample supply of is winter coats. Being a volunteer with the Salvation Army, Margaret said they will have a shipment of 200 used coats arriving in October.
People are encouraged to sponsor a kid. McNeal said people who sponsor a child will receive a card of a kid from newborn to age 12, along with the sex of the child and what they need. The sponsor will then shop for that child.
Anyone interested in sponsoring a child can just stop into the Free Store to request doing that.
From left are Shawn Bentley, Crystal Paul, Margaret McNeal, Cindy Sweetser and Parker Erskine. Absent from photo was Linda Bentley. (Times photo by Bruce Farrin)
Margaret McNeal, Free Store manager, in the above photo with Shaunna, store volunteer, recently accepted a grant of $1,700 from the NewPage Safety Voucher Program. McNeal said, “Thank you to the participating employees at NewPage and local merchants for this donation.” Donations for the furnace may be directed to Franklin Savings Bank deposited into the Santa’s Helpers Furnace Fund by those who should desire.