Free Store Provides Resource For Worcester County Residents
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As many purchase and gift-wrap new items for the holidays, the Worcester Free Store offers an alternative to spending money for brand new goods. It is a secondhand store from which customers can take up to ten free items a day.
The returns after less than a year have been positive. “We never expected it to get this big,” said volunteer Justin Norton. The small store currently serves dozens of customers a day.
Julio Medina of Worcester lives with his wife and three kids and is one of the store’s many customers. He uses the free store to find toys and clothes.
“It’s not like I’m flat broke,” said Medina, “but it’s always good to cut off some of that budget.”
The Free Store was founded in March of 2016, and ran out of a makerspace called WorcShop. It moved to its current location at 13 Cambridge St. in July 2016.
“We’re just trying to take things that people have and they don’t need, and give them to people who need things that they don’t have,” said Kent Flowers, one of the founders of the store.
The store relies on volunteer work. Anne Bourassa of Worcester is one of the seven or eight dedicated volunteers. “I came in on a Tuesday to find out what it’s about, and on that Friday I started volunteering,” said Bourassa. “I’m retired, so it makes things exciting.”
The store is stocked exclusively through donations and offers everything from clothes to dishes to “Harry Potter” books on tape. Flowers has been encouraged by the number of items that people donate to the free store.
“We’ve had a lot of support from the neighborhood,” said Flowers. “It’s not my stuff, it’s not the volunteer stuff, so we only get to do this if people give us stuff.”
Flowers takes any donations that are especially valuable and sells them outside of the store.
“At the end of the day, we need to be able to pay for utilities and rent and all that stuff,” said Flowers.
Ursula Fastl of Worcester donates to the Free Store because she would rather the next owner of her things use it for free.
“When you know it’s going to a place where people are going to use it, it makes it much easier to get rid of things,” said Fastl. “I don’t want to donate something and have people charge six dollars for it and have it sit on the rack.”
Free Store volunteer Kevin Perry’s favorite moment was when he gave a family an eleventh item for free instead of charging fifty cents for each extra item.
“This girl found a ‘Curious George’ stuffed animal, and just the look on her face was priceless. Her mom already had ten items, but I let the girl take it anyways,” said Perry. “A few days later, her mom came in and said, ‘she eats with it, she sleeps with it, and now she wants to take it to school,’ so that was pretty great.”
Being a non-profit store allows those in charge and who volunteer to focus on what is most important: providing items to people who need them.
“Our aim is to help families with a lot of children who are struggling to make ends meet. Those families have hard times, and nobody thinks about it,” said Bourassa.
“We’ve had a couple people call and say, ‘Hey I don’t have any kids’ clothes. I’m real desperate. Someone told me you might be able to help,’ so being able to contact people who actually need the help, and being able to help them, I think, is real rewarding,” said Flowers.
Extended version of article to appear in Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Correction: the original version of this article sited the wrong address of The Free Store. It has been updated.