Leroy Warren, 67, clutches personal care and other items Wednesday as he passes through Essentials Closet located at the First Congregational Church of Waterville. The closet is open six days a month. Warren said the items were for him and his girlfriend. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Leroy Warren stood in line outside the Waterville Area Essentials Closet on College Avenue Wednesday, carrying two empty, reusable bags.

Once inside, he gave his name and entered a room where laundry detergent, soap, toilet paper, paper towels, shampoo, toothpaste and other items were stacked neatly in rows.

Warren, 67, placed his bags on a table as volunteers asked what he needed.

“Would you like some shampoo? What kind?” said volunteer Mary-Lou Ogden.

She and volunteers Linda Roy and Carl Daiker plucked items from the shelves and handed them to Warren, who placed them into his bags. He thanked them and walked out after which another person entered.

Warren said afterward in the hallway that he comes every month to the Essentials Closet, sponsored by the First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, located on the ground floor of The Elm at 21 College Ave. in Waterville. The church sanctuary is adjacent to the closet and both are accessible through a door facing Front Street, in back of the building.

“It helps me out quite a lot,” Warren said. “Without this, I wouldn’t make it. I’m on a real small income a month. I just couldn’t make it.”

Being on disability and with a heart condition, Warren, who formerly was a newspaper carrier, worked in the woods and did odd jobs. He said he also gets items for his girlfriend. The volunteers are nice and kind, he said.

Volunteer Carl Daiker stocks tissues Wednesday at the Essentials Closet located at the First Congregational Church of Waterville. The closet is open six days a month. At left is volunteer Linda Roy. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

He was one of a few dozen people Wednesday who visited the closet, which allows one person in at a time because of the coronavirus pandemic. Every month they come to the closet, which is open Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays during the last two full weeks of each month, from 9-11 a.m. Wednesdays and Fridays, and 5-7 p.m. Thursdays.

“Over six days we’ll serve 120 people, but we’ve seen over 200 at times, ” said Lora Downing, who with her husband, Peter, are co-leaders of the closet. “They represent 200 to 600 people in their homes. All we ask is first and last name, how many in the household and what towns they live in. We don’t ask for any proof of need here.”

Clients come from mostly Waterville, but also Winslow, Albion, Fairfield, Clinton, Norridgewock, Skowhegan, Benton, Newport, Pittsfield, Palmyra, Belgrade, Oakland, China and Vassalboro.

Recently, volunteers have seen a surge of newcomers — more than 25 new people a month, according to Lora Downing.

“Those are the people who are most in need,” she said. “I think it’s because of the pandemic. It’s younger families that have lost jobs. One lady on Social Security said her check is $780 a month and her rent is $760. How do people do it?”

A regular client is a woman who volunteers at a community food pantry but comes to the closet for necessities, she said.

“Thursday evenings, I have younger people who are working, but they’re still not making enough. They have one job at $8 or $12 dollars an hour, but it’s not enough to support two or three kids, so they’re working two jobs.”

Downing said that, thankfully, there are people out there who understand the need and want to help.

Volunteers, from left, Linda Roy, Pete Downing, Carl Daiker and Mary-Lou Ogden provide services to people Wednesday at the Essentials Closet located at the First Congregational Church of Waterville. The woman at the right and others received items at the closet, which distributes personal care items. The closet is open six days a month. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

On Wednesday, the closet was offering free flower and vegetable seeds, compostable pots and potting soil packed in bags by the Creation Care Team, a mission of the church. Later in the morning, some Colby College students were to arrive with a check for $1,541 from donations they collected. The Waterville Sunshine Rotary Club was planning to come the next day with items they had collected for the closet, Downing said. A Colby student also helped Downing write an application for a grant from the Maine Community Foundation.

The closet relies on financial donations to continue operations.

“Having donors helps us to build our account so that every month if I know we need 10 cases of laundry detergent, I can get it,” Downing said.

The church started the closet in 2017 as a way to help people in need with items not typically offered at food pantries. The closet gets no state or federal funding.

“Every dollar that comes in is spent on product,” Downing said. “The church has put $13,000 in the budget this year. It takes us $25,000 to $30,000 to operate. The church provides the space, heat, lights, phone and all the utilities.”

Volunteers are mostly older than 70, and being able to help out gives them an opportunity to feel useful, according to Downing.

On Wednesday morning, Jessica Rood, 41, of Clinton, asked for toilet paper, dishwashing liquid, tissues, soap, diapers and other items.

“I’ve been coming here once a month for a couple of years,” Rood said. “It’s a relief. It helps tremendously because I don’t have to try to find a way to buy it myself when I only get disability. I also get diapers for a friend who just had a baby. She’s 19.”

Downing said those wanting to donate may send contributions to First Congregational Church, Essentials Closet, P.O. Box 1585, Waterville, ME 04901.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 33 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

 


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