Families and individuals often faced with tough choices find much needed support at BHcare’s Clothing Bank, where coordinator Joan McFarlane has been helping clients with a friendly smile and caring attitude for more than 21 years.
Non-profit BHcare is the designated local mental health authority for towns including Guilford, Branford, North Branford, East Haven, Madison, North Branford, North Haven, and the Valley area.
The wife and mother of 10 started off volunteering with the clothing bank a couple of years after she and her husband, Pastor Joey Nwagboli, moved to Branford with their family. Back then, donated clothes were sorted, cleaned, and distributed out of a church basement. Joan continued volunteering with the program as it expanded, sticking with it for five years as clients were served out of storage trailers, before helping move the BHcare clothing bank into its current home in the Patricia C. Andriole Volunteer Services Building in Branford some 16 years ago.
About 14 years ago, BHcare expressed its appreciation for Joan’s dedication to the program by hiring her as the clothing bank’s only paid staff member and giving her the position of BHcare Clothing Bank coordinator.
Walk-ins are welcome at the clothing bank, but most arrive after being referred by BHcare team members and even through word of mouth.
“We are also connected with 211,” says Joan. “So if you call 211 and say ‘I’m looking for clothing,’ they’ll direct you here.”
For a nominal annual fee of just $10, families can shop up to twice a month and have their pick of gently used clothing, linens, footwear, and even household and personal care items among the ever-changing inventory in the clothing bank’s shopping area. The clothing bank relies heavily on contributions from the local community.
“Everything is based on donations,” says Joan. “We have a lot of people and groups supporting us, and we put out flyers and information to let the community know about us.”
Thanks to additional generous support from BHcare, more than 3,000 people are served each year by the clothing bank, and that number continues to grow, says Joan.
“It grows constantly. Every day, we get almost 10 new people coming to utilize the clothing bank,” says Joan. “It’s an amazing program—for $10 a year, they can come in twice a month and get seven pieces each time. And we have beautiful things. I’m not going to put out something I wouldn’t put on my own children! I want you to get to the racks and find beautiful things that make you feel good inside.”
Inventory for men, women, teens, and children (including infants) include work suits, work boots, items to make up every day outfits, special wardrobe pieces such as prom and wedding dresses, and much more. Seasonal items are rotated in to include plenty of great offerings for back-to-school, winter coats for the entire family, and other must-haves.
Joan is at the clothing bank six days a week to match its days of operation (Monday through Saturday). She values the assistance she receives from a dedicated group of volunteers. Some have been with her for as many as 18 to 20 years.
“The motivation of my volunteers keeps me going. Without them, I couldn’t run this place,” says Joan, adding that more volunteers are always welcome.
She also gets a volunteering hand from her mother, Mavis Edwards, and her children and husband. The clothing bank has a welcoming, warm atmosphere where volunteers are friendly and helpful.
“We try to work with each individual so we can help them in their own special way,” says Joan. “If they’re coming in for a wedding, or if they’re going to prom, and we know they need certain things we’ll put it aside. When the shoppers come here, the staff is great with them.”
Joan meets a lot of people in situations where she knows a little extra assistance goes a long way. She’s often gone above and beyond, such as arranging to gather packages of diapers to give a new mom she’s just met.
“We try to help everyone,” says Joan. “If I have someone I know is needy, I don’t live too far from here, I’ll just go home and I’ll get it if I have what they need. I also have people I can call, like I have a nice gentleman in Branford who I can call if we really need things like socks, underwear, or baby diapers.”
While many shoppers seek only temporary assistance from the clothing bank, others rely on it as a lasting support in their lives.
“We have some people that have been with us for years,” says Joan. “You see so many challenges and meet so many people from different walks of life.”
BHcare’s Community Development and Outreach Specialist Jim Lamb says the organization appreciates Joan and sees how much she cherishes assisting others through her work with the clothing bank.
“It’s really her extended family,” says Jim. “The firsthand knowledge and the heart that she shows for these people is really encouraging.”
For her part, Joan says simply, “I love to give back.”
Once her day at the clothing bank ends, Joan often heads to another job where giving caring service is paramount, working as a certified nursing assistant at Connecticut Hospice in Branford, four days a week. That leaves her free on Sundays, which is perfect, as Joan says with a smile, “Sunday is my day for the Lord!”
BHcare Clothing Bank is located in the Patricia C. Andriole Volunteer Services Building, 30 Harrison Avenue in Branford. Clothing bank hours are Monday through Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to noon and 1 to 2 p.m.; Friday 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Saturday 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information call 203-483-2643. To learn more about programs of BHcare, visit www.BHcare.org