(Host) Help for those in trouble can take many forms. Writer
Stephanie Greene, who lives on the family farm in Windham
County, recently discovered how
responsive a local organization can be.
Mary Jane Finnegan founded Wilmington’s thrift store, Twice Blessed, in 1997, she wasn’t thinking of the famous Merchant of Venice
speech. In it, Portia defends Shylock,
contending that mercy "is twice blessed/ It blesseth him that gives and him
that takes". Instead, Finnegan thought of selling gently used goods twice and
felt blessed doing it. But she still
gets a kick out of her synchronicity with Shakespeare.
It all began when visiting friends and family brought extra
clothes for people in need in the Deerfield
Valley. Finnegan had participated
in holiday giving trees and had became a sort of hub for redistributing warm
clothes and furnishings. Over the years,
Twice Blessed has grown from a single room to the nearly 6000 sq ft it now
occupies on Rte 100. Along the way, Wilmington’s
town clerk, Susan Haughwout, helped Finnegan with the paperwork to become a
501.C3. Finnegan also acquired a used tractor trailer for $10 in which to store
In its fifteen years of operation, Finnegan estimates that
Twice Blessed has given away over a half million dollars to folks in trouble in
the Deerfield Valley.
For instance, if someone has been laid off and needs rent, Finnegan will write
a check to the landlord. The tenant will then volunteer at the store in
exchange. "A hand up… not a handout," is how Finnegan describes it. There are
two criteria for qualifying for help: one must live in the Deerfield
Valley and have resided here at
least six months.
Twice Blessed partners with local churches, Work Offenders,
Deerfield Valley Community Cares, (which provides fuel assistance), and local
schools. Right now the store is entirely staffed by volunteers, who
sort, price and sell the goods. But
soon, Finnegan hopes to employ three people part time-to provide continuity. The
volunteers process mountains of donations. The extra goes to SEVCA, and Planet Aid. I had
to ask – and learned that – the biggest thing ever acquired was the tractor
trailer; the weirdest – and perhaps the most ecologically troubling – was an
elephant foot coffee table.
The beauty of Twice Blessed is that it has remained nimble
enough to meet varying needs of the community. Finnegan can get help where it’s needed
quickly, without a lot of red tape. For instance, after Hurricane Irene
devastated Wilmington, $58,000 was
donated through the mail, much of it from second home owners. In addition,
local architect Julie Lineberger, partnered with Twice Blessed, raising
$242,000 that was distributed throughout the distressed community. Being local, Finnegan could address the needs
of those who didn’t meet the requirements of larger organizations, or otherwise
fell through the cracks.
Finnegan marvels at the ongoing abundance, of goods, of
help. When asked what skills she looks
for in volunteers, she laughs. "If you can walk and breathe, we can put you to
work." She pauses to consider and adds, "But I’d really like to learn more
about social media, too."
she doesn’t doubt for a second that the right help will come along.