Hours after a family of six in Burlington (with a baby on the way) lost their home to a fire, leaving most of their belongings damaged by smoke, Sherry Bandy-Chamblee was asking for baby supplies to help the cause.
Bandy-Chamblee operates Donation Connection, where people can drop off or pick up essentials free of charge.
The mother who lost her home contacted the store’s Facebook page for help. Bandy-Chamblee got to work, explaining the sudden need to their customers and requesting donated items. Neighbors help neighbors.
Two days later, on July 7, Bandy-Chamblee provided the family with free diapers, baby wipes and bottles.
Helping people who are going through difficult times has become Bandy-Chamblee’s mission.
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Donation Connection is located at 3138 Sunnyside Ave. in Burlington. It is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday and by appointment from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays.
But it’s not a store in the traditional sense. All items are donated and no one is ever charged for anything they date.
“This is not my store,” Bandy-Chamblee said. “It’s the community store. Because the community provided all of this.… I run it. I’m at the center of it. But none of it is mine. It all belongs to everyone. ”
Store Goal: “I don’t want people to struggle when it’s something I have”
The store offers clothes, shoes, sanitary supplies, blankets, toys, school supplies, books, furniture, and other household items that most people probably take for granted.
Those who come to the store are allowed to fill up to three full bags of items per family and can do so once a week, unless the family or individual urgently needs it.
People who come to the store usually experience some kind of poverty or personal hardship including homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, mental health issues, or domestic violence. They may have lost their home or property to a fire or natural disaster, barely released from prison, or recently unemployed.
Bandy-Chamblee itself is no stranger to difficult times.
“I look around (the store) and I’m like, ‘What else do I need? What else can I do?’” She said. “I don’t want people to struggle when it’s something I have. I know that struggle.”
Bandy-Chamblee said a combination of poor relationship choices and alcohol and drug addiction caused her to lose her children to foster care before entering rehab in 1992.
She eventually reunited with her children after getting sober, but says the next six or seven years were tough as she adjusted to sobriety and got her life back on track.
Following her desire to give back to those in need, in 2016 she began working as a Donation Coordinator for Transitions DMC, a Burlington charity that helps the homeless. In November 2017, she lost this job during a renovation.
That same month, her husband Wayne accidentally fell from a roof he was working on and was paralyzed. Bandy-Chamblee helped him recover and relearn to walk.
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Meanwhile, she continued to donate things she had in her home to those in need before opening Donation Connection’s first location on Osborn Street in February, after the owner of the property agreed to downgrade. rent so she can afford to take her mission to the next level.
Using Facebook and word of mouth, Bandy-Chamblee raised awareness of Donation Connection and gathered enough items and funds to continue helping those who came to the store.
The store held a “grand opening” at its old location in June, which turned out to be a great success.
“People came in hordes,” she said. “We served 400 hot dogs. We had a bounce house and we had music and karaoke and 74 different silent auction items and we raised $ 2,100. It was wonderful. The community was just plain amazing. unbelievable.”
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The money raised allowed Donation Connection to move to a new, cheaper location.
After taking two weeks to settle in, Bandy-Chamblee hosted a grand opening at its current location on July 7, helping the nearly 50 people who came to the store that day.
She gets help running the store from her husband, longtime friend Teresa Jones, and Jones’ 4-year-old dog, Syke.
But she had to make certain sacrifices to carry out Donation Connection’s mission.
Next challenge: Obtain certification from Donation Connection as a non-profit organization
Bandy-Chamblee does not receive a salary and the store does not make any profit. Rent and other Donation Connection bills are paid only through donations.
Some days she arrives at 8 a.m. and stays after midnight.
Bandy-Chamblee has the final say on what they can offer and there are times when they have to make a judgment on what a person can leave their store based on what they have to offer and if there are other people in need. It’s difficult, she said.
“I don’t have a hard skin. I give in a lot,” she said. “It eats me up, because I don’t know if I’m right or wrong at the end of the day. Part of me feels like I should have let them have it, because it’s a gift. anyway. But you can tell when someone is on a hit when they happen by their actions. And I know they look at the labels to see if they’re a brand and (think about) taking them and sell or trade them to get what they want. ”
Sometimes people are unhappy with what she has to offer and voice their complaints. Some even tried to take advantage of her and steal from the store.
“I had a family who came in and wiped all my blankets, all my sheets,” she said. “One of them kept (Teresa) busy talking, I was back here to donate and she went out with a lot of things. And I know who she is, so she won’t be allowed in. . She’s going to be stopped at the door. … And that’s going to be the hardest thing for me, because I haven’t forbidden anyone to be here. “
But Bandy-Chamblee refuses to stop. She said the store was booming.
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“The people of this town treated me so well,” she said. “If I have a very urgent need for something, it’s here in the next few days.”
Donation Connection is working to establish itself as a non-profit organization, but Bandy-Chamblee said it will have to hire a lawyer to help it through the process.
Bandy-Chamblee would like to expand into a larger building in the future, with separate rooms for clothing, furniture and other items, as well as a playroom for the children.
“Am I going to get there someday? I don’t know. But will I stop trying to get there? No,” she said. “This place is my heart and soul. If I lost this place I would run away from my home. I don’t want the kids to have to do without it. (Donation Connection) honestly got me out of a depression. I thought more about everyone and not about my own problems. “