by Francesca Kitch, Community Journalist
HARDWICK — In the basement of The United Church of Hardwick and in the upstairs of the Greensboro Town Hall, two community thrift stores are at work giving back to the community and reducing waste.
Kim Greaves runs the Giving Closet in Greensboro, an establishment that was founded in 2010. The town used to have free clothing giveaways once a summer, but after their 2010 giveaway they decided not to dispose of the leftover items and established a year-round way for the community to access free clothes, books, appliances, and other useful items. Greaves noted that there was “such a need in town and elsewhere.”
Visitors come from as far away as Barre to leave donations and look around in the old classroom that is now home to the Giving Closet.
As part of Greensboro’s recycling efforts, the Giving Closet works to make items available to those who need them, making things usable and keeping them out of the trash. The atmosphere allows what once filled a family’s closet to be “able to be given away consciously.”
Not only does the Giving Closet provide a place for anyone to pick up a winter coat or donate an old board game, there is also a food pantry outside the door with donated items from people and organizations (last year Salvation Farms donated a generous amount). The donations can include fresh items, as well as canned carrots and other nonperishables.
“Part of our policy is that we try to keep as much within the community that needs it as we can. [The Giving Closet is] very small but it contributes everything,” Greaves says.
Seven miles south, in the basement of the United Church of Hardwick, Kathy Burnor, LeeAnn Lee, and Leslie Nelson jointly run Angel Outfitters. Another haven for beloved clothes that have been outgrown or aren’t needed anymore, this thrift shop has encouragingly low prices with numerous opportunities for free clothes and deals that send you home with bags of items. “If people come in and get two big bags of clothes, whoever’s working is very apt to say ‘oh let’s just give you a deal on this’…we’re not really here to make money, we’re here to give back to the community,” Burnor says.
Nearly 10 years ago, Deb Messier and Kathy Burnor saw a need for accessing inexpensive clothes and reducing their material waste. They saw the need to do something about this when the used clothing store in town, “New to You,” was closing down and jumped on the chance to purchase the store’s stock at a reduced price.
The United Church of Hardwick – both were members at the time – provided much of the original funding, along with a few personal loans. Angel Outfitters paid back the original investment over time and their “profits” go to support church activities. Operating rent free in the old Sunday School classrooms, they are seen as part of the church’s mission of providing for and getting involved with the community.
Due to their location and sponsor, Angel Outfitters initially faced a degree of stigma against getting clothes from a church. Yet there is religious engagement with shoppers; the church basement is merely a space in which they can set up their inventory in an economic manner. Over time, the hesitation over the store’s location abated.
With the recent natural disaster, those affected have had the opportunity to come in and tell the Outfitters what they have lost due to the flood. “We’ll give you whatever you need that we have,” Burnor said. Along with flood relief help, the thrift shop is supporting local foster networks. Burnor and Lee have both been involved with foster parenting and recognize the need for cheap clothes for these families.
Although the store has a mission of helping out, they find it difficult to keep the store open. Volunteers are difficult to come by and they have already had to reduce the number of days per week that the store is open from four to two. During large rummage sales friends, neighbors, and willing store goers are called on to help out, since full-time volunteers are scarce.
The Giving Closet in Greensboro is open three days a week and also faces a need for volunteers, especially in light of a recent family emergency calling one of the coordinators away. Hours of work goes into vetting items and organizing the shop each week.