By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
Just like any store, the Brighton Clothing Depot has its holiday look on this time of year.
Its premises in part of the former canning factory at 39 Richardson St. have a welcome down-home look year-round with that wooden porch and gingerbread trim. But inside, you see wonderful Christmas touches, from tree lights and decorations to the traditional ugly Christmas sweater.
But it’s a special time of year for the volunteers who run the store even apart from Christmas. It’s that time when they take the money raised over the past year and finish disbursing it to local charities.
Some donations have already been made, like the one to Royal Canadian Legion Poppy Fund that seemed more appropriate to do closer to Remembrance Day. There have also been six bursaries to local high schools for graduating students going on to college.
John Roulston and June Armstrong of the executive committee reel off other donations soon to come – Cornerstone Family Violence Prevention Centre, the Brighton food bank, the Bridge Hospice in Warkworth, Trenton Memorial Hospital, the Sunny Days program for developmentally challenged young adults, breakfast programs at five schools, the St. Vincent de Paul Society and local churches.
Roulston estimates the total of these investments in the local community will be $40,000 to $45,000.
He attributes this to the 100%-volunteer staffing – the vital work done by about 40 volunteers to create a thriving thrift store that gives back abundantly.
COVID-19 and the four-and-a-half-month shutdown it brought meant a challenging year, Armstrong said. Meanwhile, “donations probably increased – people are at home and sorting their cupboards.”
Those weeks the store was shuttered were also a time when the rent and utilities continued to come due, she noted.
“There’s no rent subsidy for our type of set-up.”
Roulston sees the store as having a four-pronged purpose, first and foremost of which is raising the money for these charitable organizations and supporting their work.
Second is the opportunity for those of limited means to buy the things they need, leaving less of a hole in their wallets.
Third is the opportunity for people to donate things that might otherwise have gone to the landfill – the old reduce-reuse-recycle ideal.
Fourth is the chance to provide a community activity that is a lot of fun for all involved.
“A lot of us volunteer one day a week, some more frequently,” Armstrong said.
“Some of us volunteer on a call-in basis – there are always people who are available on short notice.”
It’s always a delight when a volunteer shows some special gift, like the artistic flair that makes certain displays so attractive, or a knack like the ability to organize the clothing racks and book collection so professionally.
Their dedicated sorters sometimes run across a collector’s item, like a heavy lead crystal vase or an exquisite beaded purse. The price tags these items will eventually sport is still definitely a bargain, but in a relative sense – like the delicate bride-and-groom figurine that is selling for $300 on eBay and has a $50 price tag at the Brighton Clothing Depot.
It’s a matter of remembering their core function, Roulston said – to raise money for the community.
“Our real purpose is to support charitable activities in the community. We are very community-oriented, and we don’t donate money to national charities – generally speaking, it’s the local charitable operations. This is a local activity with local donors and local volunteers, and the recipients of the donations are all local,” he stated.
Armstrong referred to the good they also do in diverting items from the landfill even if that isn’t always through sales. Their trips to Brighton Recycling are an example.
“Broken kettles, nonusable muffin tins, no-longer-functioning slow cookers, anything with metal in it we deem to be nonsalable goes to Brighton Recycling,” she said.
Old blankets and towels cannot be sold, but they separate them out for the Northumberland Humane Society for its animals. The Humane Society also gets their surplus cat carriers whenever they seem to get more than usual. As well, they have a collection box on the check-out counter that says Animal Rescue where people often make a donation or at least drop in their change – that’s for the Humane Society too, Armstrong said.
Sometimes the clothing they get seems unsalable, but she often attempts to rehabilitate them by taking them home for a laundering. Most recently, she has salvaged two Columbia jackets that seemed beyond use in this way.
“Now we can sell them, and two children will be warmer this winter,” she said.
But in more difficult cases, like a jacket with a broken zipper, they are passed along to people from the Cerebral Palsy Association, who make these more difficult repairs to obtain clothing for resale.
“If we can’t sell it, we donate it along,” Roulston said.
The community is generous with its donations, especially on the weekend. In the 24 hours beginning Saturday afternoon, Armstrong said, the donation box on the porch seems to overflow – sometimes you can hardly make your way up the steps. They have begun having volunteers on the weekend just to lug some of it inside.
Armstrong said that new volunteers are always welcomed with open arms, and they often find new friendships along with the rewarding work.
This makes quite an opportunity for newcomers, Roulston added – speaking from the perspective of one who moved to the area only about seven years ago with his wife (and fellow volunteer) Gillian. He has found Brighton is one of those communities that embraces its newcomers and makes them feel welcome. The same is true of the Brighton Clothing Depot.
In one form or another, Roulston said, the Brighton Clothing Depot has been operating since 1965. Its current location, in part of an historical 19th-century canning factory, is where they moved from the Brighton Industrial Park two years ago.
“This is a little larger and closer to the town, so the physical location has enhanced our ability to service the community,” he said.
The old canning factory has an official heritage designation, and its history can be seen in the beautiful roof timbers and the wooden walls and floors. The former dressing room (no longer open because of COVID regulations) is where a heavy old wooden door once allowed farmers to park their horse-and-buggy rigs to offload their crops. Another heavy old door, closed and fixed into place for decades now, is where the canning factory workers sent out processed vegetables to be loaded on to the train.
Now the big room is subdivided into areas, with donations taken first into the curtained-off sorting area. When items are sorted and ready, they get trotted out to be displayed to best advantage on the shelves and tables – many of which are donated (and many of which, themselves, are for sale).
There are designated areas, like the Table of the Week. One of their talented volunteers sets up a beautiful table with a lovely tablecloth, attractive serving dishes and decorations, and formal place settings. It’s all for sale – or any piece of it anyone might want. Photos are taken each week, and the Table of the Week is posted on Facebook.
This being the holiday season, this week’s table features a festive tablecloth, red napkins with holly sprigs on the napkin rings, and a big ceramic snowman as a jolly accent piece.
Next to the front door is their well-organized book section and, beyond it, the children’s area that volunteers enjoyed creating with its rafts of toys and stuffed animals. While the children are making their pick, parents might want to browse the higher shelf that has all their puzzles – and they are selling like hotcakes these days, Armstrong said.
A crafts area is beyond that as you go around the store’s outer wall, leading on to another beautifully arranged corner of art and specialty items. Continuing on, there are shelves of miscellaneous items from canning jars to a pair of boxing gloves.
The next wall has displays of mugs and many pairs of shoes of various kinds, from glamourous old-fashioned T-strap pumps to goofy moosehead slippers. And in the middle of it all are the racks of well-organized clothing – with a special ugly-Christmas-sweater rack up for the holidays.
As much fun as it is to shop here, Armstrong points out another use they have found for their amazing and varied inventory.
“One thing we would like people to be aware of is, for families who have been affected by a disaster – fire, flood or just falling on hard times – we invite them in to our store when the store is closed for a personal shopping trip with no money involved,” she said.
With the steeper prices since COVID hit, she sees many families struggling, trying to afford both food and school clothing for their children.
“If we can supply the jeans and T-shirt, Mom can provide the groceries. All they have to do is ask,” Armstrong said.
“And in the case of flood and fire, we an provide frying pans, sheets, clothing and dishes – anything we have.
“I am aware of at least six families we have helped this year, and I don’t think anyone is aware of all of them – and it doesn’t matter.”
The Brighton Clothing Depot doors are open Wednesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. It’s a place where a warm welcome always awaits. The volunteers are glad to be back after their long shutdown, and happy to be doing work that makes a difference to so many.
“The bottom line is, this place is very healthy, very active, and hopefully we will be able to continue for many, many years, because we provide an important service,” Roulston said.
“On several levels.”