Helpline barn out of room
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:03 PM
"Helpline House has run out of room to count its blessings.Bainbridge Island's one-stop social service agency is remodeling its barn to create more usable space for the Clothing Connection program, which receives donated clothing and gives it to those in need.It's time now to really respond and help the volunteers do a better job, said Helpline House director Joanne Tews.The barn's large basement, presently used to receive and distribute medical supplies, for storage - and for material that nobody can find another place to put - will be remodeled and brightened to serve as the Clothing Connection, dubbed the Barn Marche by the patrons and volunteers.Medical supplies will be moved to the second floor, currently used for clothing. The attic will become a storage area.If money is available, the walkway on the north side of the barn, by which it connects to the main building and parking lot, will be covered, at least in part, to facilitate donations.People drop off donations at all hours, said volunteer coordinator Clara Manny. And a lot of times, of course, that means when it's raining. If the donations get ruined by the rain, not only can't we use them, but we have to pay to have them hauled away.The need for more space is immediately apparent. By the end of the day Thursday, an eight-foot table in the barn alcove is completely covered with piles of donated clothes. More donations fill the area beneath the table.That's what we've received just today, Tews said. And this is while we're in competition with the Rotary Auction.The problem then is the one faced by anyone who tries to de-clutter a garage - with stuff everywhere, how do you find room to sort and organize?The remodeled basement will have a large counter, behind which will be a sorting area. The floor and walls will be painted, and a bathroom will be added. But the exposed beams and overall barn look will be retained.The first step will be to clear out the basement, which Manny describes as the place where everything comes and sort of dies. When that will happen depends on the availability of muscles and trucks, Manny said.Everything moves at the pace of volunteers, she said.Architect John Rudolph is drawing up plans, and the Reijnen Company is donating its construction management expertise. Initial money for the expansion came in the form of an anonymous $10,000 donation. She saw the need and offered to help, Tews said of the donor.A portion of the proceeds from Thursday's Helpline House Golf Tournament will also be earmarked for the expansion project. I think anything over what was raised last year will go to the barn, Tews said.The total project cost won't be known for some time, Tews said. Once the specifications are complete, Helpline House will look for donors of the necessary material and labor, purchasing only what isn't donated. The medical equipment, including a large array of crutches, canes and walkers, will move to the smaller second floor, basically swapping places with the Clothing Connection. That arrangement will better balance space with demand, Tews said.She described the demand for medical supplies as steady, with about 60 families a month coming in for such items.While she says the facility seldom runs out of crutches, which people usually only need for a short period of time, they run out of wheelchairs fairly often.The demand for clothing is substantially greater - 60 to 70 patrons per week.Tews and Manny say the biggest need is for utilitarian clothes like jeans, sweatshirts, and warm jackets. We need things people normally wear - no wedding dresses, Manny said.Tews said there is also a great need for bed linens and small housewares, such as pots and pans. Despite the booming local economy, demand is increasing.Clothing usage is going up, food bank use is going up, Tews said. She said about half of the demand is from island residents, and about half from Suquamish or Poulsbo.Manny said the type of island resident using the services is changing.We used to get people who were literally camping in the woods, but today, there are a lot fewer woods for them to camp in. And some of the really substandard housing is being replaced with new homes.But a lot of families are still hanging on by a thread.There are people we don't see for a couple of years until that one little snap - a layoff or an illness, Manny said. Then they're back. Much as they like us, they'd rather not come and see us."