Debbie Tibbetts gets her barn ready for her annual Clean Out Your Closet sale. She is holding a photo of her brother James Gendron, who was recently diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. Her event, which funds local nonprofits or people in need, will benefit her brother this year. Clean Out Your Closet will be held 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 8, at 199 Pinewoods Road in Lewiston. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Debbie Tibbetts of Lewiston revels in giving back to her community. Tibbetts, who says she inherited her faith and her giving nature from parents Jacqueline and Claude, is known for her annual Clean Out Your Closet event. For the event, people drop off their unwanted women’s clothing on one day and then, after sorting and displaying, the public can come by the next day to buy items, with the funds going to someone or some group in need in the community.

Tibbetts says she usually doesn’t like to talk about herself, but as her event comes into its 10th and, likely, final year, she recently opened up about her motivation to do good in her community and what makes this year an important one to her personally: Her brother James Gendron was recently diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. Her event, always geared toward helping either a local nonprofit or a specific person or family in need, aims this year to lighten the burden for her brother.

Always on the lookout for the next good cause, Tibbetts doesn’t promise this will be the last year of her event, but even if it is, she’ll be praying and reflecting about what she most wants to tackle next.

Clean Out Your Closet will be held 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 8, at 199 Pinewoods Road in Lewiston.

Tell us about yourself: I live in Lewiston where I grew up in a large well-known family in the area, the Gendrons. My father, Claude, the youngest of the Gendrons, was a self-employed electrician and my mother, Jacqueline, ran a beauty parlor in our basement until she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

I come from a very loving and giving family. I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school, but I have since moved closer to really knowing my lord and savior. In my walk with him, he’s encouraged me to be more like him — you know, merciful, kind and giving.


I’m a 57-year-old mother of three grown children. I make a living refinishing furniture and selling it on Facebook under G’s Shabby Chic and sewing in my big sister’s upholstery shop in Greene: Unique Designs Upholstery. I also spend two days a week caring for my new granddaughter Charli. My life is pretty busy, but I always try to find some time to help whenever needed.

So, what is Clean Out Your Closet, where is it held and why did you start it? Clean Out Your Closet is a charity page on Facebook that was designed for women to get together and have some fun all while helping someone in need in our community. I’ve always held these events in my home for over 10 years now. I started Clean Out Your Closet because my new puppy chewed up all my shoes one day. I thought, “Boy I wish I could find a way to replace them,” and that’s when Clean Out Your Closet started as a way for women to get together and swap women’s items and have some fun. After each get together, I realized that we could help other women outside of our group and started donating all the clothing to homeless shelters.

When did things change and the event start to take shape? Things started to change when I realized that designer handbags and fancy dresses weren’t helping these organizations at all. So, we changed things up and decided to raise money by selling these items (to the public) at a price that was a win-win for everyone. We sell each item for one dollar, which helps women that can’t afford the high cost of clothing, and then we donate the remaining clothing for free to various organizations. All the money raised goes to someone in our community in need.

What is your experience in what the community needs most? The homelessness, the poverty, the mental illness, just the sad feelings of hopelessness that some people feel — the needs are so great in our community and all over the world, especially nowadays. Too many people just don’t care as we all move about in our busy lives. It just gets to me when I look around our community. We are all capable of doing something, even if it’s just helping one person. So, if I can do my part in loving people, maybe it will rub off and spread to the rest of our community.

What were your biggest influences to start this event? I guess my biggest influence is the fact that I’ve been blessed in my life and when you’re blessed, you should always give back even if it’s in some small way. This year’s event is very close to home for me. My brother James Gendron has been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer and can no longer work. Previous causes that we’ve donated to were organizations like Preble Street Homeless Shelter, Safe Voices, Greater Androscoggin Humane Society and Kinzie Strong (a young girl battling cancer) and to individuals like local women with multiple sclerosis, a local man with cancer, and the family of a young man that died of drug addiction. The money went to his son, so he could have a nice Christmas.

Were there any standout moments over the past 10 years? I guess one standout moment is when I first started and donated multiple bags of clothing to Preble Street homeless shelter, and I was told they really needed socks and undergarments. That made me very sad, that all these fine clothes weren’t what truly was needed. We needed money in a big way.


Another standout moment was when the young boy who lost his father to drug addiction sent me a personal card thanking me for thinking of him even when I never met him before and he knew his dad would be so grateful.

I remember the year I did the event for multiple sclerosis because my mother suffered over 32 years with it. I knew I needed to find someone going through the same thing. I asked my Facebook friends to nominate someone they knew and that’s when I found two women, one who was older and living on her own with the help of home care and another young woman in her 20s. Both were battling this terrible disease. I couldn’t pick which one was worthy of our money donation because both of them were, so we raised $800 that year and we split the money. The older woman put oil in her tank for the winter and the younger woman used it as a deposit on her new apartment.

It sounds like a busy event. Do you have help and what’s kept it going? Each year I did most of the work myself in the beginning, but I have a great bunch of ladies, always willing to give a helping hand. But I’m stubborn by nature, and sometimes take on more than I can chew.

What does the future look like? I’m not sure. I know I’ve said that this may be the last one and I think it’s because I’m emotionally connected because it’s my brother. So, when this event is over and I can get some rest, I will definitely be praying about it. If God wants me to continue, I will do as he wishes.

Every year I always make posts to get donations of women’s items. We need more women that are blessed in our community to clean out their closets and donate so we can make these events possible. Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed women can’t change the world in some small way for someone in need.

Clean Out Your Closet will be held from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 8, at 199 Pinewoods Road in Lewiston. For those interested in donating women’s clothing to the event, clothing can be dropped off at 199 Pinewoods Road up to Oct. 7. For more information, call Debbie Tibbetts at 212-1380.

Comments are no longer available on this story

filed under: