Parenting NH article

Article published Dec 1, 2008  

Someone else's treasure
Clean out your closet to help those in need.
By Andrea Bushee
When someone receives a gift from Baby Threads of New Hampshire, they react in a number of different ways.

Some of them cry, some of them smile, says Bonnie Champagne, but the gifts are always well received.

Champagne and her mother Dorothy Foley started the program in 2000 by putting together packages of newborn baby clothing and items for families in need.
“One of the young mothers who received a layette bag burst into tears,” Champagne said.

Champagne knows even little gifts like mittens and hats can mean a lot to kids in New Hampshire, especially this time of year.

There are organizations like Toys for Tots and “Santa funds” that collect new toys and presents for needy kids. But there are also many organizations, like Baby Threads, that collect used items to give to those in need.

Many people like to clear some of their kid’s toys and clothing out to make room for the new items during the holiday season, and these groups are ready to pass them on to people who need them.

Baby Threads in Laconia has expanded to help people of all ages since it started. The group gives clothes and other items to people in need and they also run two thrift stores, in Laconia and in Chichester.

“It started out with babies,” Champagne said. “We realized the need doesn’t end there.”

They work closely with the Community Action Program of Merrimack and Belknap counties, according to Champagne, along with many local schools. The organization is partly funded by the United Way.

They sell clothes for a very low price at the organizations’ thrift stores, for example a baby outfit is about $1, Champagne says. But they also give away items and if the donor specifically asks their items be given to Baby Threads, they will make sure it is given away, she added.

The group has also gotten involved with filling and giving backpacks to give to kids in need before school starts. They have a birthday package they give to families that includes a cake mix, candles, frosting and party favors, so children of low-income families are also able to celebrate their birthday. Baby Threads also works closely with families during the holiday season.

“We get phone calls right up until Christmas eve from families who need help,” Champagne says. “We do the best we can to help them out.”

Kathi Lewis of Hollis runs a similar program and is also looking for gently used clothing to give to babies in need.

As of October she had given out 587 of her bundles to mothers across the state who need help. Like Baby Threads of
New Hampshire, Lewis packages baby items for moms who need clothes and blankets for their new babies, and which are brought to hospitals.

“I am absolutely amazed,” she said. “It has been an incredible journey.”
She said her project is a spiritual activity, bringing together donors, social workers, moms and babies in need.

“I am just still moving stuff from point A to point B,” she says.

She will take baby blankets and clothes, ages 0 to 6 months, any season, and make sure they are given to a baby in need. Lewis packages them with care, wrapping clothing in a blanket which is usually handmade by someone who has heard about her effort.

She calls her program the “Stork Project,” and she works closely with Child and Family Services of New Hampshire as well as the Upper Room in Derry, a family resource center, among other organizations.

Lewis collects the items in her home. She hopes to someone will donate a minivan to the cause so that she can take larger items such as high chairs and other baby items to pass on to others in need. She plans to call it the “stork mobile.”

Both Child and Family Services and the Upper Room also take other items besides baby clothes.

Child and Family Services takes donations of children’s and teen clothes, hats, mittens, gloves, boots and coats in good condition at their Manchester office on Elm Street. They also take children’s books, but they do not take toys.
The Upper Room will take gently used, in season clothes, size 3T and smaller.

Brenda Guggisberg, a program coordinator, takes donations once a month. This month she will take items Dec. 8 and January’s donation day is Jan. 12.
She will also take larger items like cribs if she knows someone who needs it. Storage space is limited, she said.

Some of the items donated to the Upper Room are also passed on to the Marion Gerrish Thrift Shop located in the community center of the town, added Guggisberg. The thrift shop helps many families from the Upper Room and it also supports the center which houses many programs used by their clients, so it is a win-win situation for people in need in Derry.

The parents who receive the items at the Upper Room are very gracious, added Guggisberg. They are struggling and it is a huge help for them to receive clothes and other items for their children.

Another New Hampshire group also helping those in need is Neighbors Helping Newborns, based in Kingston. They accept new and gently used size 0-3 month newborn clothing and some preemie clothes as well as blankets, quilts, small baby-care items such as bibs and burp clothes, new pacifiers and bottles.

Elizabeth Cameron, a member of the group, says volunteers take the items and fill a large plastic zip-top bag with enough clothing and supplies to last families the first couple of weeks with their new baby.

Like Baby Threads and the Stork Project, Neighbors Helping Newborns is made up of volunteers. Many knit and sew items to put into the packages, Cameron adds. They also work year-round and have many donation drop-off sites including Valvolines in Concord, Derry, Laconia, Manchester and Nashua and Portsmouth.

The packages are given free of charge and donated anonymously. The nurses will look for families who seem like they need some help and present the packages to them, Cameron said.

“It makes them feel really good to be able send something home with them,” she said.

Andrea Bushee of Pembroke is a freelance writer and is mom to Jackie and Justin.