Habitat, Brunswick foster family team up to build resource exchange center

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BRUNSWICK — Habitat for Humanity/7 Rivers Maine partnered with a foster family early this month to bring a local clothing exchange closer to fruition.

Tammy Cutchen and her husband, Stephen Leeman, plan to open a free clothing and resource exchange for area foster children and their families at their Noble Street home. Clothing and personal hygiene products will be among the items offered by the couple, who have housed foster and adopted children for 15 years, besides raising their biological children.

The exchange will be run out of their second garage. Although state budget cuts to adoptive and foster children provided an obstacle to the project, Habitat and other local businesses and organizations like Downeast Energy, Wal-Mart and Lowe’s have helped move things along.

“The thing that has been absolutely amazing to me is that I kind of had this idea, and the community support that’s come forward for it has just been incredible,” Cutchen said last week. “Especially in these times, where everybody is struggling a little bit.”

Habitat volunteers on Jan. 8 converted a garage door into an entrance for users of the exchange, installing a new door and exterior wall area around that smaller door. Many of the children who will benefit are in transition, escaping unsafe or abusive environments and having to leave without their possessions.

“Most times, the children come to our home with nothing but the clothes on their back,” Cutchen said.

“Sometimes they don’t even have shoes on their feet,” said James Goldring, Habitat resource development coordinator. He added that Cutchen’s goal, as well as that of Adoptive and Foster Families of Maine, of which she is a board member, “is to create a bunch of these centers across the state, where foster parents and case workers can go in situations like this, and get clothing and shoes and things like that.”

Having accumulated many items over the years in her garage that were donated or no longer needed by her children, Cutchen “was trying to convert a part of her garage to an area where these clothes could be kept out and available,” according to Habitat Executive Director Tara Hill.

Charlie Pennell, manager of Habitat’s ReStore, was among those involved with the project. The ReStore, a discount retail outlet that is open to the public, sells new and reclaimed building materials, appliances, furniture, fixtures and tools at 40 percent below market value. Area homeowners, businesses and contractors donate the merchandise.

Cutchen looked for materials for the project at the ReStore and asked Pennell about partnering with her, Hill said.

“Although this is something the ReStore usually doesn’t get involved with, we felt the cause so worthy and the need so great that we were excited to partner with Tammy to benefit local foster children,” Pennell said.

The exchange will be open one day and one evening a week, Cutchen said, as well as on an emergency basis. She hopes to open it by May.

In the meantime, Cutchen hopes other local homes will open their doors to kids in need.

“We always, always need good foster families,” she said.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.