By Jennifer Farnsworth/For The Leader-Herald
JOHNSTOWN — It has been over ten years since a group of Catholic parishioners at Holy Trinity in Johnstown came together to create a resource for community members in need. At that time, volunteers thought about what was missing, quickly realizing that while food pantries were readily available, access to basic household needs was not. Today, that need continues and the volunteers of Mother Teresa’s Closet are ready to meet those needs.
Jennifer Connolly, a longtime volunteer, said they knew there were enough resources for people to find grocery items and meals, but what they didn’t have was a place to get the day-to-day items that many of us take for granted.
“We started thinking about the day-to-day necessities that people may not be able to afford and from there we came up with Teresa’s Closet. There were a few established food pantries around but nothing that had household and personal care supplies,” said Connolly.
Connolly said she and the other volunteers began to think of the things we need to run a home, including items like detergent and dish liquid. Then, Connolly said, there are the personal hygiene products, something she explains goes beyond the physical aspect and crosses into a person’s overall sense of well being.
“Not having personal hygiene products readily available spills over into how you begin to feel about yourself. It was clear to us we needed to be able to supply these items,” said Connolly.
Today, Mother Teresa’s closet includes toothbrushes, toothpaste, baby wipes, diapers, feminine hygiene products, incontinence products, and household cleaning supplies. The volunteers are also known to include heartfelt touches like ornaments and cards during the holidays.
“These are little things that we hope make a difference,” said Connolly.
As with everything, the pandemic left its mark on Mother Teresa’s Closet. Connolly said before COVID, they averaged 80 families seeking assistance at their bi-monthly drop-in days. They had to stop that service in 2020 and have just recently been able to get it back up and running, according to Connolly.
“I felt so bad knowing that for so long we were able to gather our volunteers and keep the in-person service going. We have regular families that depend on us and I thought of them often during that time,” said Connolly.
To safely transfer items from the parish to those in need, the volunteers created a system in which they bag the household items and distribute them via a grab and go service. Previously, community members would come to the parish center with a list of items they were in need of and volunteers would fill that list. Connolly said the grab and go bags have everything they need, and they have even created bags with baby needs.
Connolly said the program’s only requirements are that you show proof of Fulton County residency and that you use the goods within your own home. She said people have generally been so appreciative, which motivates her group of 15 volunteers to ensure the service keeps going.
“For the most part, everyone who walks through the doors is just so thankful,” said Connolly.
Holy Trinity’s Rev. Matthew Wetsel said the area has consistently had a need for this type of program, adding that it is different from many other pantries in that they meet those that are beyond food.
“Mother Teresa’s Closet is a much-needed source of outreach to low-income households in our area. I am so pleased with the good work that all of the volunteers generously offer in order for the recipients to receive cleaning supplies, paper supplies, hygiene products, and more,” said Rev. Wetsel.
Rev. Wetsel said the program is named for Mother Teresa because it is a reflection of her selfless teachings.
“I have had opportunities in the past to deliver some of our supplies to two different households that have transportation challenges and depend upon others to provide assistance for them. Mother Teresa’s Closet is named after the twentieth century saint who won the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her ministry to the poorest of the poor in India,” said Rev. Wetsel.
While the program is primarily funded by donations made by Holy Trinity parishioners in memory of loved ones, Connolly said they are supported in large by the Helpers Community Service Store in Gloversville. In addition to financial donations, Connolly said they often donate clothes that haven’t been sold in their Gloversville store. Those items are often set-up at Mother Teresa’s pick-up days, where recipients can grab some items as needed.
To ensure that the program is able to keep going, Connolly said she has learned how to stretch donation dollars with online shopping.
“I am able to often get tax exempt items in bulk through places like the Dollar Tree, which really helps us maximize donations,” said Connolly.
Right now, Connolly said their biggest obstacle has been getting the word out that they are back up and running. She said anyone looking for assistance can come through the parish’s side gymnasium doors on the second Thursday of every month, from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. The next scheduled day is Thursday, March 10.
“We want people to know we are here for them, we are back,” said Connolly.
Holy Trinity parish is located at 205 Glebe Street in Johnstown or online at https://parishes.rcda.org/