With help from others, Community H.E.L.P. finds a home

NO PLACE LIKE HOME — Patti Wininger, left, and Kim Cudlitz, right, stand outside the new home of Community H.E.L.P. at 7 Nulty Street with Avery Dandreta, representative of the Frederika and Wardner Gilroy Charitable Trust. Seed money from the trust, administered by Glen and Lesley Niemy, is covering rent expenses until Community H.E.L.P. becomes self-sustaining in its efforts to provide clothing and household items to those in need. The 1,000-square-foot thrift store is open to the public seven days a week, with hours of 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday (Wednesday open until 7 p.m.) and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Co-managers Wininger and Cudlitz can be reached at 647-5000. (Geraghty Photo)

NO PLACE LIKE HOME — Patti Wininger, left, and Kim Cudlitz, right, stand outside the new home of Community H.E.L.P. at 7 Nulty Street with Avery Dandreta, representative of the Frederika and Wardner Gilroy Charitable Trust. Seed money from the trust, administered by Glen and Lesley Niemy, is covering rent expenses until Community H.E.L.P. becomes self-sustaining in its efforts to provide clothing and household items to those in need. The 1,000-square-foot thrift store is open to the public seven days a week, with hours of 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday (Wednesday open until 7 p.m.) and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Co-managers Wininger and Cudlitz can be reached at 647-5000. (Geraghty Photo)

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Nearly a year after starting out without any funding, knowing only there was a great need, the founders of Community H.E.L.P. have been given a hand up to help them help others in need.

Last December they moved from their tiny unheated storage space at 39 Depot Street into a 1,000-square-foot building at 7 Nulty Street. Finally, co-managers Patti Wininger and Kim Cudlitz had enough space to organize and display all the donated clothing and household items they offer to residents who are struggling or starting over.

“It brings tears to eyes knowing there is a place like this to come to when you need help,” said Sonya Wright, a Bridgton residents and single mother of two girls.

Wright’s testimony is just one of many the two women have collected since word has spread of the program. Since last August, a total of 309 families have been helped through Community H.E.L.P.

The move to 7 Nulty Street was made possible by the willingness of building owner Kane Herrie, a local plumber, to drop his rental fee to half of his asking price, well below the market price for commercial space. But the biggest boost came from Glen and Lesley Niemy, who agreed to provide seed money as guardians of the Frederika and Wardner Gilroy Charitable Trust.

The trust is covering Community H.E.L.P.’s rental costs temporarily, until the program is able to generate enough income to stand on its own. The program offers items for free to families who qualify under federal Housing and Urban Development guidelines, and also sells the items at what Cudlitz likes to say are their “low, low prices,” Wininger joked.

“It looks phenomenal,” said a smiling Avery Dandreta, as she entered 7 Nulty Street on Monday, three weeks after the operation got up and running as a thrift store. Dandreta is working on behalf of the Niemys to assist Community H.E.L.P. (Help Enrich Lives Program) to become self-sustaining.

Dandreta took in all the clothing displayed neatly on hangers from rows of clothing racks bought with funds from the trust. Before, all the clothing was piled on shelves, making it difficult to see and select from.

“You’ve turned this big room into a real store,” Dandreta said, beaming. Help in their mission has come from many other sources, particularly the Bridgton Community Center, which is serving as a depository for the trust funds until Community H.E.L.P. obtains its 501(c)3 nonprofit status.

Recently, Adrian and Fletcher Carr also helped out, providing many boxes of hangers and store display racks from The Cool Moose, which is vacating its Main Street space to make way for Beth’s Café. Everyday residents have also helped, including Robert Casimiro, who just happened to walk by one day, entered, and ended up donating $250.

The Bridgton Redemption Center, across the street from Community H.E.L.P., has also helped by offering storage space for clothing and household items until they can be sorted and displayed. The program has enlisted a student from Lake Region High School’s Diversified Occupations program to help sort and organize donations held in storage.

Those who meet federal guidelines (income of $273/week for one person, $311/week for two, $350/week for three, $388/week for four) are given anything they need for free on their first visit, and may fill a kitchen bag a month on subsequent visits. Often, those who are helped end up returning the favor by donating whatever they can, such as outgrown children’s clothing.

There’s not enough room to display furniture at the store, but Wininger and Cudlitz keep a list of local residents who have offered to donate furniture. The women link up those needing furniture with those who have offered it, leaving it up to others to arrange the actual pickup and transfer. They are also provided with referrals to other helping agencies and organizations.

Those who earn incomes above federal guidelines are welcome to shop at the store, where prices are about as low as they get, in terms of used clothing. Tops are $1, and jeans, sweatshirts and shoes are $2. Toddler and infant clothing goes for $1.50 down to 50 cents.

In addition to donations and store sales, the women plan to raise money by holding a big yard sale this summer next to their building. They would be interested in talking to residents who would like to volunteer their time to assist them in their efforts. It has taken a lot of hard work and dedication to make Community H.E.L.P. a viable part of the community. But Wininger and Cudlitz both say it has been worth it, particularly when they receive letters like the following from a local EMT:

“One year ago I was injured on the job. After a year of recovery, I was ready to go back to work, but due to lack of funds I was not able to buy interview clothing or even pay for childcare in order to look for work. Kim and Patti at Community H.E.L.P. helped me obtain appropriate clothing for the interview process. Without them I am not sure I would have been successful in obtaining the job. I am currently employed and have been giving back to Community H.E.L.P. so that they may be able to help others as they have helped me.”

Laureen Rugen, another grateful resident, wrote, “I moved to Bridgton seven months ago, in August of 2012. I didn’t know a soul, nor did I have anything… no dishes, no clothes, no winter jacket, nothing, absolutely nothing,” she said. When she just happened to go by Community H.E.L.P. one afternoon, she said, “They were incredible… polite, full of advice and very caring. I felt so comfortable. For the first time, I got some sleep without the worries of where and how I was going to get these things. The service they offer went way above and beyond anything I would have expected!”

 

Wininger and Cudlitz both said the best way the public can support them now is by shopping at their store. They are open seven days a week, with hours of 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday (Wednesday until 7 p.m.) and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Their phone number is 647-5000.

ROBERT CASIMIRO of Bridgton started a charitable trust fund and has made contributions to local groups.

ROBERT CASIMIRO of Bridgton started a charitable trust fund and has made contributions to local groups including Community H.E.L.P.

Helping best he can

Robert Casimiro likes to believe that he is doing his part to make the world around him a little better.

At the age of 75, Casimiro tucks away a little extra money here and there into a trust fund he started in honor of Mary Aruda, who was an influential person in his life.

Casimiro moved to Bridgton, having spent time over the years in Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. He decided on Maine because of an active group interested in seeking tighter legislation regarding immigration.

When deciding which group to assist with his charitable trust fund, Casimiro relied upon a Bible verse — feed the hungry, cloth the naked, and shelter the homeless.

So, he has made contributions to the Weymouth Food Pantry at the Bridgton Methodist Church, the Community H.E.L.P. program on Nulty Street in Bridgton (see accompanying story), and the fuel collaborative, administered by the Bridgton Community Center.

“I do the best I can to help these groups. It might not be that much money, but I figure it helps,” he said.

In these tough economic times, every contribution — big or small — does indeed help.

Carmen Lone, executive director at the Bridgton Community Center, said one of Casimiro’s donations to the fuel collaborative helped fill a local resident’s oil tank and was a boost to a depleting fund.

 

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