FREEPORT – It was a chilly October morning as I knelt on the loading dock behind the Community Center Thrift Shop and started sifting through the dozens of bags and boxes that had been left there overnight.

In the first few minutes, I took out a couple of stacks of little plastic bowls, some long white curtains made of heavy cotton, a blue porcelain colander, some pretty worked over kids’ coloring books and a whole series of books written in Polish.

Lynn Hannings, who manages the thrift shop for Freeport Community Services, told me the goal was to go through the piles of donations and decide what to do with it all.

She wanted useful, unique and quality stuff for resale in the thrift shop, which helps fund the nonprofit social services agency that helps residents of Pownal and Freeport with a food pantry, heating oil assistance and other programs.

But the person who sorts through the donations — usually Hannings — also has to decide what is so worn, tattered or broken, that it should be carted off to the dump. And the person has to decide what should go to Goodwill, the Salvation Army or other places that might have a use for it, as well as what should just be given to folks for free.

To me, these were difficult questions. At my house, I keep everything until I have no room left, then I throw everything out.

But Hannings’ job is basically to be the decider, and to help her store make money for Freeport Community Services.

Luckily, she turned out to be a lot more decisive than me.

She sniffed the curtains (no smoke or other odors) and tossed them in the housewares bin. She put the colander in there too.

“These plastic dishes aren’t worth much, but they’re useful. We could just give them to the food pantry so people who come for food can use them. And these coloring books can go on the free table. Somebody can still get some use out of them,” said Hannings, 60, who is also a bass player in the Portland Symphony Orchestra. “And these books in Polish look great, we’ll have somebody do some research online to find out what they might be worth.”

Hannings has been running the store for the past several years, and she’s seen the profits go up considerably since she’s started to be more curious about what things are worth. So she uses the full brain power of the 70 of so volunteers who help out at the store to find out what treasures they might have stumbled upon.

Once, the store got a donation of a bag full of Danielle Steele novels, soaking wet from rain. But at the bottom of the bag, dry, was a book that contained letters to his troops from George Washington, circa 1779.

“We sell about 1,400 books online, getting a lot more from collectors and people interested in those topics than we would just trying to sell it at the store,” said Hannings.

While finding treasures and their value can be fun, a lot of what Hannings and her volunteers do is tedious and physical. The day I helped out, I carried some metal bed framing into the store, and carted a lot of paper bags and cardboard boxes over to a recycling bin. I spent a good deal of time taking layers of newspaper off individual pieces of stoneware, china or teacups that were donated.

Then I brought that newspaper out to the recycling bin.

I was with Hannings for a couple of hours and thought we barely made a dent in the pile.

“No, this is pretty good progress, you should see it on Monday morning when people drop things off over the weekend,” said Hannings.

Occasionally, I brought items inside to various parts of the store, which includes clothing, housewares, furniture, collectibles and odds and ends spread out over two floors. Hannings explained to me the store gets a lot of donations from people in town who are downsizing, maybe selling a house and moving into a condo.

The shop also gets a lot of donations that express the diverse interests of people who live in the area. A banjo and a box full of foreign currency were among the donations the day I was there. Plus the store had recently received an old train set and almost immediately sold it to a collector for $200.

Back on the loading dock, I picked up a bag with eight juice glasses, a complete set, and knew these were keepers. But a pair of ski boots were beyond my expertise. They looked OK to me, but I really wasn’t sure what to look for in terms of wear and tear or damage.

“There are a lot of skiers in town, so someone will be able to tell us if these still have value,” Hannings said.

A couple of giant stuffed animals, including a polar bear, got dropped off. Immediately the volunteers began speculating how much the polar bear might be worth to a Bowdoin student or alum, what with that being the school mascot and all.

But before the store could accept this prize, Hannings advised me to give it the sniff test, as well as a good looking over.

“You want to make sure it doesn’t smell like smoke or wet dog, or have any hair on it, things like that,” said Hannings.

So I put my nose close and took a whiff.

The polar bear passed the test, and would soon have a new job, making money to help people in need.


Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]