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Greene: Twice Blessed

(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.

(Greene) When 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 a501.C3. Finnegan also acquired a used tractor trailer for $10 in which to store extra furniture.

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 atl east 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.

And she doesn't doubt for a second that the right help will come along.

Stephanie Greene is a free-lance writer now living with her husband and sons on the family farm in Windham County.
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