|Barbara Dolloff arranges some of the donated clothing that is available to
residents in the Chester Clothes Closet, next to the town police station.
Union Leader Correspondent
CHESTER -- After a year of planning, Barbara Dolloff has finally managed to get a free clothing and food outreach going in town, offering residents a place to find just about any creature comfort they might need.
Although she’s always been tuned in to the needs of her community, the shift into high gear that finally resulted in the Chester Clothes Closet came after an inexplicable doorstep delivery.
“I originally got the idea from some friends who were visiting from Georgia who are both involved in running a clothes closet down there,” said Dolloff.
“I thought it was a good idea, something that we could do here in Chester. But it was three or four months later, when someone left a big box on my porch with 25 hand-knitted sweaters in it, that I got the hint. I still have no idea where the box came from, but I knew what I had to do.”
What she did next was talk it up amongst her fellow do-gooders in town — particularly those involved with the Wilcomb Townsend Trust — resulting in what will be an extension of the long-running town trust fund, originally established to aid those in need, explained Dolloff.
The fund has been around for more than a century and is the result of a trust established through the sale of an estate left to the town, said Dolloff.
“It was supposed to be a place for destitute old ladies — in the 1930s you could get away with saying that,” said Dolloff, with a laugh. “Anyway, if you’re a New Englander you know there’s no old lady who’d be willing to step into a home like that — too much pride. So the town petitioned the court to see if we could sell the house and use that money to establish a trust fund, which we did.
Now we use the interest generated by the fund to help those in need.”
Often those who tap the trust fund are facing temporary hurdles that required a onetime lift, said Dolloff.
“Maybe you just need help with your electric bill, so instead of falling behind and losing your electricity, we can get you over that hump. Usually it’s a one-time thing,” Dolloff said “And because we know most everyone in the community, we can verify the need easily, without a lot of formal checking.”
Wilcomb Townsend Trust President Dianna Charron said the beauty of the clothes closet is that, like the trust fund, it provides immediate relief to residents without a tangle of red tape.
“Whereas providing help through the town’s welfare department might require putting a lien on someone’s home, or making sure they qualify by income, this kind of outreach is available to everyone, no questions asked,” said Charron.
Dolloff said since spreading the word of her intention to collect clothing made available to anyone who needs it through a twice-weekly walk-in clothes closet, the outpouring from the community has been more than generous. People have been dropping off bags of clothing “in terrific shape,” and adding canned goods to the growing pantry, designated as “Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard.”
“It’s a total community effort,” said Dolloff, who officially opened the doors to the outreach on Nov. 10.
“I couldn’t believe the kind of response we got. People were here, interacting with one another, kids were doing their own shopping for things they liked, like boots and gloves. It’s not exactly what I expected,” said Dolloff.
Clarifying what she expected, Dolloff said she envisioned people coming in and quickly looking to see if what they needed was available, then leaving. What has been happening is that families are coming in with donations and staying to socialize — it helps that Dolloff has fresh-baked cookies at the door and a refrigerator stocked with juice to make mingling even more enticing.
On Saturday, Joann Hassam and Heather Dion had arrived early with bags of clothing to donate, and hung around while their kids helped Dolloff stock the shelves.
“Everybody’s struggling these days,” said Dion. “This is going to help a lot of people.”
“I see it as a great opportunity for people in town to get the help they need, and it’s really great not to have to leave town anymore to go to a place like Goodwill, or a consignment shop,” Hassan said.
Already Dolloff is dreaming of the future — short-term plans include a Christmas ornament swap, and perhaps establishing a communitydriven “Toys for Tots” drop-off area for donations of new toys to be distributed, as needed.
“We had originally planned to do this in a little room behind the Post Office, but as we began getting donations the room became overpowered with clothes, so I asked if there was a bigger room available someplace in town, and we ended up here,” said Dolloff, of the space right next to the police station, which has plenty of room for the racks and tables loaded with clothing in all shapes and sizes.
For now the closet will be open Wednesday evenings and Saturday afternoons.
“As we go along we’ll see how it all works out, and we’ll listen to what people say. If there’s another way to do it, we’ll talk about it and make that decision, should we need to adjust things,” Dolloff said.
Chester Clothes Closet is open to all Chester residents in the back building at 84 Chester Street. Hours are Wednesdays 7-9 p.m. and Saturdays 1-3 p.m. For more information, please call 887-4979.