Beth Cary at the Cape Elizabeth Swap Shop, where she has been selecting items for donation to Portland’s newly arrived asylum-seekers. Jenny Ibsen / For The Forecaster

CAPE ELIZABETH — The Recycling Center was busy Monday afternoon with drivers waiting to drop off items, and others parked at the Swap Shop to search for used treasures.

Hidden behind piles of knick knacks, Swap Shop volunteer Beth Cary sorted through donated boxes, as she does most Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Beth Cary sorts through a donation of home goods at the Cape Elizabeth Swap Shop, where she is collecting items for asylum-seekers in Portland. “I’m here so often that people recognize me and they see my posts on Facebook and know what things I’m looking for,” Cary said. Jenny Ibsen / For The Forecaster

But this week she was collecting items to re-donate to asylum-seekers moving into new homes.

Cary, who has been a volunteer at the Swap Shop for five years, began by collecting reusable books, toys and office supplies for the libraries and teachers at Pond Cove Elementary and Cape Elizabeth Middle School.

“It’s nice to be able to pitch in a little extra because here in Cape, where they have deeper resources for the school, the teachers still need to get caught up on supplies, especially later in the school year,” Cary said on Monday.

However, after the recent influx of asylum-seekers who landed at the Portland Expo sports arena, Cary began organizing to donate objects to help those families shift from temporary housing into new homes.

“There are a lot of young mothers, lots of little kids, and as they transition into housing from being at the Expo, they need everything,” Cary said.

Over the past month she has taken two trips in a cargo van filled with items and four trips in her personal car to distribute furniture, kitchen utensils, blankets, clothing, books and toys to the Root Cellar, White Memorial Seventh-Day Adventist Church, and St. Elizabeth’s Essentials Pantry in Portland.

“I’m here so often that people recognize me and they see my posts on Facebook and know what things I’m looking for,” she said.

The Cape Elizabeth Swap Shop is a trove of all sorts of used goods, from housewares and appliances to toys, sporting goods, clothes and books. Jenny Ibsen / For The Forecaster

During her shifts at the Swap Shop, Cary leaves her car parked outside the building with the trunk open so donors can just drop items directly into her car, for delivery to nonprofit organizations across Portland.

Cary looks to a 3,000-member Facebook group called Maine Needs to discover how to help the families and nonprofit organizations.

Earlier this week, Cary brought a car-load of household furniture collected through the Swap Shop directly to a family that recently moved to Westbrook. Their apartment had a couch, but Cary collected a rug, a queen-sized camp bed with an air mattress, a kitchen table, and a basket of silverware and kitchen utensils.

“All their food needs were being met, but to be able to go in and drop all that stuff off … the family was immediately sitting at the table,” Cary said. “It was just such a sense of do-goodery to be able to help so directly.”

Founded by Cumberland resident Angela Stone, Maine Needs has gained traction across the state in the past six months. The group serves as a bulletin board for Mainers to connect with families, and lists drop-off locations for donations. Members can either identify as someone who wants “to help,” or one that wants to “be helped.”

“I knew how much stuff was pouring out of people’s homes and going to Goodwill and Salvation Army, two places that asylum-seekers can’t afford because they aren’t legally allowed to work for six months to two years,” Stone said Tuesday.

The group, founded in January, was “never just to help asylum-seekers or refugees,” she said, but any individuals who need assistance “starting their entire life over from scratch.”

“The same organizations that have been helping asylum-seekers most recently have been trying to help the homeless population for many more years,” Stone said.

Cape Elizabeth town councilors reiterated a similar point last week, when they unanimously decided to donate $10,000 to Opportunity Alliance and Preble Street, two Portland-based social service agencies that aid marginalized communities.

For Cary, collecting items at the Swap Shop is a direct way for resources to travel from neighborhoods “right back into our community.”

“Everyone being able to do a little bit of effort as they can makes a huge difference at the end of the day,” she said.

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