Winter Clothing Giveaway in Canaan Brings Warmth to Upper Valley Residents

  • Friends of Mascoma board member Beth Felix, left, and her daughter Kaylee, 13, of Enfield, show small pairs of tights to Amber Lussier, of Canaan, as she looks for clothing for her one-month-old baby at the organization's annual winter coat and clothing giveaway at the Canaan, N.H., fire department, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. The Felixes started the winter clothing drive seven years ago. "I originally started this because of her," Beth Felix said of her daughter. "She would come home from school and say so-and-so can't go outside at recess because they don't have a coat." (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Don Rankin, of Enfield, pretends to steal the nose of Danica McAndrew, of Enfield, as his daughter Lilly, 9, waits at the door of the Canaan, N.H., Fire Department with a bag of of clothing from the Friends of Mascoma winter coat and clothing giveaway Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. Tyler McAndrew, 12, is at right. The two families were among what organizer Beth Felix called the biggest turnout in the event's seven year history. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Heather Thoresen, of Grafton, right, gets help carrying a selection of winter clothing for her children to her car from Friends of Mascoma board member Beth Felix, left, in Canaan, N.H., Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. Felix said that most of the clothing is donated in the weeks leading up to the event, but soon after she'll start to get donations that will be stored for the following year. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, October 20, 2018

Canaan — There was a time when Kaylee Felix would save up her allowance money to help buy needed clothing items for schoolmates. Now she gets to watch them pick out their own stuff for free.

Kaylee, 13, and her mother, Beth, helped organize a winter clothing and coat giveaway for the seventh straight year on Saturday, drawing crowds of families and individuals of all ages, rummaging through 12 buffet-style tables’ worth of jackets, hats, mittens, blankets and ski pants in to the Canaan Fire Department conference room.

Currently sponsored by the nonprofit Friends of Mascoma Foundation, the initiative began when Kaylee was a student at Enfield Elementary School and lamented some of the disadvantages experienced by her peers.

“She would often come home and say, ‘So-and-so can’t come outside for recess because they don’t have a winter coat,’ or, ‘So and so has holes in their sneakers,’ ” Beth Felix said as families and individuals of all ages rummaged through 12 buffet-style tables worth of jackets, hats, mittens, blankets and ski pants. “I was president of the (Parent Teacher Association) board at the time, and I asked the principal at the time, Justin Benna, if there would be a need for a winter clothing drive. He said, ‘There is a huge need,’ and it kind of took off from there.”

The giveaway was staged in several Enfield locations before moving to the Canaan Fire Department last year. The new digs are closer to the geographical center of the towns that Friends of Mascoma Valley serves — which also includes Dorchester, Orange and Grafton — and is accessible for residents of Canaan Village who may have difficulty finding transportation.

It still wasn’t too far for couple Damian and Victoria McConnell, of White River Junction, who learned about the event on Facebook.

“You can’t afford coats these days,” Damian McConnell said while sifting through items near the start of the event, which opened its doors early because of the size of the line outside. “Even at Listen Center, they’re so expensive — $60 apiece. I’m actually getting some stuff for other people I know from the community dinners in White River Junction who can’t make it here.”

Some of Saturday’s patrons have been coming for years, while others had learned about it recently for the first time. The latter included Amber Lussier, of Enfield, a 2012 Mascoma High graduate who is raising three children with her boyfriend.

“I never heard about this before, but it’s actually really cool,” Lussier said. “Someone told me about it the other day and I was, like, ‘Awesome, let’s go.’ ”

Friends of Mascoma solicited donations for the event and presented so many items that attendees had no problem being fussy about their selections. Lucy Barrell took her time choosing a jacket for her grandson, Logan, finally finding a blue Columbia coat she thought would suit him.

“Next are ski pants,” Barrell said. “He needs them.”

T.J. and Marissa Hood, of Enfield, were picking out items for their two daughters, including 8-month-old Serenity. “What do you think of this?” T.J. said, holding up a blue-and-yellow striped winter hat. Marissa put the kibosh on it, making a face of disapproval and shaking her head. She continued through the pile in front of her.

“This is great because it’s the community helping each other,” said T.J. Hood, who grew up in Corinth. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

It also was a first for Brittany Michael, 22, who moved to Canaan with her husband, Austin, from Florida last February with very little winter gear.

“Last year we just wore, like, three pairs of jeans until it got warm out,” she said. “I thought, ‘We better have some stuff this year.’ ”

The event is especially important for those on fixed incomes with dependents. That included Joe Labrecque, 68, a retired pathology technician who is raising four grandchildren with his wife, Diana.

“I’m a church organist now, which is not a living wage,” said Labrecque, an Enfield resident whose grandchildren are ages 5, 9, 12 and 17. “I can’t imagine life without them. It’s not a burden, but it’s a challenge. That’s why it’s so important to have people like (the Felixes), who know how important these kinds of things are and can get people together in a matter of minutes.”

Kaylee, an eighth-grader at Indian River Middle School, is happy to see how much of an impact the event has had since it began.

For her, it’s all about hanging out and playing outside with her friends no matter the time of year.

“I feel like everyone should be able to go outside and have fun,” she said. “It’s important that everyone helps each other out to make sure everyone has what they need. It’s important to be kind to each other.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.