A Taneytown center for women in crisis is facing a financial crisis of its own.
The Carroll County Pregnancy Center, a nonprofit all-volunteer organization, usually helps about 350 people a year with a range of services from material and financial assistance to pregnancy testing and counseling. It exists on donations and whatever money its Bear-ly Used Boutique generates.
The winter weather and months of road construction at the front door of the York Street building have hurt business at the store, which sells used clothing, toys and baby furniture.
Then, it rained on the annual fund-raiser, which often nets about $3,000. This year, the walkathon made less than $1,000.
"Now, we have no cushion, and we need it," said Gloria Szewczyk, director of the center since it opened in February 1991. "Last winter, when we couldn't open the shop, the 1993 walkathon money kept us going."
Volunteers have launched a letter-writing campaign asking for contributions of money or new baby items to keep the center in operation.
"We are literally begging for every cent," said Ms. Szewczyk, who asked all those contacted for $5. "We can do a lot with a little bit of money."
Carolyn Perticone, a volunteer, said the center fills a vital need in the community.
"We are the only ones in the community to offer this help," she said. "People want our help, and we can give them any help they need."
Volunteers help families meet immediate and long-term needs, said Ms. Szewczyk. They show clients how to budget their resources and recently renovated a home for a needy family.
The center provides financial assistance, counseling and medical referrals to women facing crisis pregnancies.
"Our job is to serve, help and offer alternatives to abortion," Ms. Szewczyk said. "Our clients become our friends, our family.
"The girls become part of our lives. I still hear from girls I helped 10 years ago and I still love them."
Volunteers often offer their own homes to women who have no other place to go.
"We are strictly pro-life and believe in saving babies," said Debra Bitzel, a volunteer for two years. She recently housed a teen-ager during her pregnancy and helped her through the delivery.
"It was really rough, but I am glad she kept her baby," she said.
Like any business, Ms. Szewczyk said, the boutique and counseling center pay routine expenses, including utilities and $500 monthly rent for 1,200 square feet of space. The store is crammed with neat rows of clothing, household goods and toys. The colorful storefront on one of the town's busiest streets attracts buyers. Store sales, all of donated items, help pay the bills.
"But the boutique has become a ministry in itself," she said.
All items have a "suggested" price, she said, but any donation is acceptable and frequently the stock becomes "give aways." Private donations and financial support from St. Joseph and St. Bartholomew Catholic parishes also supplement income.
Behind the boutique are offices and a comfortably furnished counseling room. The center also provides new baby supplies for its clients and keeps furniture and baby equipment in storage.
Fifteen volunteers serve as counselors, who assist women during and after their pregnancies.
"We don't drop them," said Ms. Bitzel. "We follow them through their pregnancies and often we become good friends."
The store is always looking for "stockers and straighteners," said Ms. Szewczyk. Doug Knox, a Carroll Community College student with a full-time job, donates his only free day to do "unofficial bookkeeping."
"We are really happy with any financial donations," he said.
Information: 756-4322 or 756-4393.