NORWAY — Two of the Norway-based nonprofit Rightstart’s major programs, Christmas for Kids/Christmas for Teens and the Coat Room, are searching for a new operations center. After calling unleased storefronts at Oxford Plaza home for more than 15 years, the groups recently had to move out.

“The Bahre family  very generously provided us a location at no charge for years,” said Wendy Williams, coordinator for the Coat Room. “But unused spaces are being filled up with businesses moving in” and a new tenant recently signed a lease for the site Rightstart has occupied for the last 10 years.

Rightstart needs a new home to run its Christmas gift and winter coat distribution programs. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

Christmas for Kids/Teens had already wrapped up its 2020 gift season. The Coat Room, which provides free winter gear for anyone in need, liquidated much of its inventory over a couple of weeks. Both groups have moved their remaining inventories and supplies temporarily into a storage space behind the old Olympia Sports but need to find a site to operate out of by June.

“We need a free lease,” said Williams, noting that she has considered a couple of locations for just the Coat Room but has not ruled out continuing to co-locate with Rightstart’s Christmas program.

The Coat Room requires about 400 square feet of space. Christmas for Kids/Teens needs at least 1,200 square feet during the pre-holiday and Christmas season, which starts October and and wraps up January. The groups are not looking for anything fancy.

“We basically need restroom facilities and heat, especially in the weeks leading up to Christmas when our volunteers put in long hours,” said Rightstart Board of Directors Chairperson Connie Allen. “We also need it to be a discreet location, as we have to maintain the confidentiality of our clients.”

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The Coat Room has been supplying free winter coats and gear for Oxford Hills residents for about 25 years, according to Williams. It takes in donations year-round, originally starting with just coats. It began by just providing coats for kids, but expanded its services over time. Now it includes mittens, hats and snowpants as well, and sometimes shoes.

“Years ago, an Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School student decided to take on blanket distribution as her community support project,” Williams said. “She collected 35 blankets and we put them out in the Coat Room. All were gone in one day.

“There is a real need in our communities for this service. We ask no questions, no one has to prove anything. If someone’s child left his coat somewhere, they can replace it at the Coat Room, if they need coats for their whole family that’s what they get.”

Williams manages the Coat Room with a handful of volunteers. It normally is open on Wednesday afternoons starting in fall and going until April, but this year Williams had to cut short the season due to the move. She said she had no problem distributing everything she needed to before packing up and moving to storage.

Christmas for Kids and Christmas for Teens collectively provide gifts for up to 700 Oxford Hills youth each year. Recipient families need to submit applications that confirm economic need and local residency.

“We will meet as a board within the next few weeks to formulate and prioritize our options,” said Allen.

Rightstart also produces a local Book Swap and sponsors a the Summer Tutoring Program, which matches certified teachers to students for help with reading and math skills. The group recently started a literacy fund to honor Karen Ellis, a board member who passed away late last year. The fund will focus on literacy and tutoring initiatives for students between kindergarten and third grade.


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