Thursday, December 9, 2010

Volunteering would be a 'Nifty' idea

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner.

As we enter the holiday season I’d like to recognize someone who has been making holidays and everydays easier for the needy in Barrie for many years, and is herself now in need of some assistance.

Valerie Scrivner founded the Barrie Free Clothing Centre in 2006. Operating from a surplus portable at Ferris Lane Community Church, she received donated clothing and distributed it to the needy. Like a food bank, the Centre didn’t charge. But after several successful years, the Church needed their portable back for expanded programming.

A local landlord was generous enough to give some downtown retail space, but Valerie needed a registered charity to issue receipts for the donated rent. Living Green, Barrie’s environmental NGO, stepped up and agreed to adopt the Barrie Free Clothing Centre as one of its projects. Redistributing used clothing reduces the waste stream, and providing it to the needy helps maintain an economically sustainable diverse community.

The move created some new costs for the Centre, however, because now there was insurance, and HST on the donated rent. To help cover this, the Centre added a second project, Nifty Thrifty, selling high-end clothing at deep discounts.

Standard items accepted by the Centre for free distribution are clothing which is clean and in good shape and perfectly good for continued wearing. High-end items, such as designer or expensive outfits, are set aside for sale at rock-bottom prices, such as $3 for a $60 blouse or $4 for like-new designer jeans. These prices are even lower than one would find in a standard thrift store, and allow people short of money to acquire decent clothes for work or a job interview.

Overall, Nifty Thrifty has been growing despite hurdles. One major issue has been the extended reconstruction of Toronto Street, which has cut most of the traffic from passing the Centre’s storefront (behind 110 Dunlop St. West, between Toronto and High Streets). The City promises this will soon be completed, and we anxiously await that day. But the greatest need is for reliable volunteers to help the Centre stay open and expand hours. It’s a fairly simple job, keeping clothing sorted on the racks and helping clients find what they need. Anyone with a few hours a week or even a few hours a month could sign on and help keep the Centre running smoothly. Valerie has been a stalwart and reliable volunteer for many years, but can’t do it all on her own. Perhaps this holiday season you can find it in your heart to donate some time to this worthy cause.

You can contact the Centre and Nifty Thrifty by calling Valerie at 252-2179 or emailing, or drop by between 12:30 and 3:30 on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday.

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer, and politician.

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