Blue House faces growing need

In Bel Air, church project provides clothing, canned goods to the community

August 10, 2008|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Sun

Across the street from the Episcopal Church of Reconciliation on Lee Street in Bel Air sits an unassuming light-blue two-story house with a screened front porch.

But what lies inside has touched the lives of a growing number of Harford County residents.

"The doors to the Blue House are open to anyone with a need," said the Rev. Robert Northwood, the church's pastor. "This project is a mission to the community, not just our church."

The Blue House, which the church opened early this year, provides free clothing and canned goods to the needy, he said.

The ministry, originally named Rack of the Lamb, had been housed in the basement of a home of one of the church's parishioners, Northwood said. But as the program grew, so did the need for a larger, more permanent space, he said. When the house became available, the church rented it from the town of Bel Air and renovated it.

Open three times a week and one Saturday a month, the house is run by three couples who are members of the church.

The ministry provides clothing assistance to about 25 families a month, Northwood said. People come in and choose the clothing they want, taking it with the understanding that it is for their use only, and not for sale.

"We're hopeful that we can reach out to people all over the area," he said.

One initiative involves taking clothing to the homeless in Baltimore, said Charles Liebig, 69, of Havre de Grace. Last year, Liebig's wife, Gwendelyn, crocheted dozens of hats and scarves for the project.

At the Blue House, clothing and canned goods are sorted into rooms. Clothing donations that are clean, in good condition and not from a smoking environment are accepted, Northwood said.

The clothing needs vary at different times of the year, but certain items are always in high demand, he said. For women, tops in medium and large sizes are needed. They are also looking for T-shirts, sweat shirts and casual shoes for men.

"People who can't afford to buy clothes don't wear suits and formal dresses," he said.

Donations from larger churches are also needed, said Liebig, who works at the house on Monday evenings. The Church of Reconciliation is small, with 80 to 90 members, and its resources are limited, Liebig said.

The initiative is an opportunity to help others, and give lonely people someone to talk to, said George Fischer, 64, of Bel Air, a retired construction worker who assisted with the renovations, and now helps run the house.

Fischer was shocked by the wide spectrum of people - homeless, families who have lost their jobs, grandparents caring for their grandchildren and single mothers - whom he meets at the house each week.

"One man, who comes in quite often, lives in the woods in Harford County," he said. "I didn't think that in this day and age there could be people in such situations."

When he isn't at the house, Fischer recruits donations and picks up items when people call in, he said. Recently, he attended a garage sale and convinced a woman to donate the unsold items.

Despite the dire circumstances of some of the ministry's patrons, many of them want to give back, Northwood said.

"We have one man who comes by and he refuses to take the clothing for free," said Northwood, who has been the pastor of the church for six years. "He insists on making a donation."

The benefits of the program are many, said Fischer's wife, Theresa Fischer, who volunteers at the house. There is no cost, anyone can donate items to be distributed, and people can come in repeatedly, she said.

"It's a lot of work to keep the program going," said Theresa Fischer, 64. "But it's all worth it when a child comes in and their face lights up when they get new clothes."

The program is also a way to give back to the community, Liebig said.

"At the end of the day, I get a lot of satisfaction knowing that children in need have clothing," said Liebig, who is retired from the Department of the Army.

Joan Tribull volunteered to help with the ministry because she had loved ones in need of such a program, she said.

"I've seen many people I love who had nowhere to turn," said Tribull, 74, of Bel Air. "They are good people who lost their jobs and had no way to buy clothing for their children. I like the idea of being able to help people who have no one to turn to."

The ministry is also a way to get to know the needs of people in the community, she said.

"The greatest reward that I get for participating in this program is to know that I'm helping troubled people," Tribull said. "When people come in for clothes, they talk to me and I learn things about them."

Another reward is the gratitude of people of all ages, she said.

"Some people are so precious when they walk out the door with their clothes," she said. "The look on the faces of the little children just makes it all worthwhile for me."

The Blue House

Donations may be made at The Blue House at 23 West Lee St., Bel Air.

Hours of operation: Mondays: 9:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.-7 p.m.; Wednesdays by appointment; Thursdays 9:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m.; and the third Saturday each month from 10 a.m. to noon.

Information: 410-838-6444.

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