by Dan McClelland
Tupper Lake's Family Champions is again open for business here- but at a new location.
The charitable organization opened its doors in a renovated storefront owned by Heather and Majeed Maroun in their flat-iron style building at the intersection of Front and Wawbeek Ave.
The freshly painted place is now filled with racks of clothing and shoes for men, women, teens and children, furniture of all types and sizes, shelves full of household goods and small appliances and an assortment of products needed by households.
Family Champions, which has helped hundreds of family who were down in their luck across a five-county North Country since its inception nearly a decade ago, has operated in recent years from donated headquarters in the former O.W.D. Inc. building on Demars Blvd. One of the drawbacks was the premises weren't adequately heated and the volunteers were always cold in the winter months.
“Now we're warm,” President Cheryl Vaillancourt said on a cold day last week.
The organization was created bya very giving woman, Karen Pioli in her house on Prospect Street and later moved to a vacant house owned by Wayne Leonard on upper Park Street. From there the help store moved to the Boulevard site, which was much larger in size.
What the leaders of Family Champions can't now fit into their new digs is stored in garages leased at Laurence Storage on Santa Clara Boulevard.
“Right now we're looking for someone who will let us use their garage for our larger items,” Mrs. Vaillancourt said when we visited the new place.
The doors at Family Champions are open because of the selfless contributions of more than a dozen local volunteers, who include: Kathy Paquette, Janet Pelno, Nancy Soderholm, Mark Pelno, Holly Clark, Sharon Sauve, Theresa Denis, Rose Marie Lang, Lynn Goldman, Lilian Rohrbach, Julia Hubbard and James Bankich. These people keep the agency open four mornings each week- Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, from 9a.m. to 12:30p.m.
Working with Mrs. Vaillancourt is a board consisting of Holly Clark, Denise Roberts, Kathy Paquette, Sharon Sauve, Lilian Rohrbach and Fred Schuller.
Many of the volunteers and the board members have many life experiences to share with their customers at Family Champions and that can be a big help. Sometimes it's just a sympathetic ear for someone to talk toabout their troubles that is comforting.
In October the work on the new place began. There was a lot of cleaning, painting and renovations to tackle before all the merchandise could be moved from the former place.
Many people and businesses here stepped up to help. One of the leaders was Code Enforcement Officer Pete Edwards. Pete Desmarais painted theentire place. Joe Jessie, through his association with builder Don Bennett, upgraded the storefront's electrical system. Jeff Bombard built shelves for the place. Others who helped too were Majeed Maroun, Jason and Julie Hubbard, Ricky Dattola and Daniel “Boonie” Carmichael of Tupper Lake Supply, Tom McCarthy, who moved boxes all one day, Brian Rolley, Vaughn “Boo” Casagrain, Don and Michael Vaillancourt, many of the Family Champions volunteers, Fred Schuller and Don Bennett. Donated renovations supplies came from Fortune's Hardware and Aubuchon Hardware.
“Without all their help we would never had made it!” said a thankful Mrs. Vaillancourt.
In the new place Family Champions will continue its mission of serving the people of a five-county area, which includes Franklin, St. Lawrence, Hamilton, Clinton and Essex.
“There's a big need in our area,” she said of people in need of clothing and goods for their households.
This past year alone Family Champions helped nearly 1,700 people- 1,347 in Franklin County, 12 in Clinton County, 58 in Essex, 154 in St. Lawrence, 52 in Hamilton plus 31 others from out of the area.
This year it helped between 40 and 60homeless families in the area, seven alone in Massena early this fall.
Mrs. Vaillancourt remembers a request from a woman a month or so ago who contacted her looking for a bed. She'd been sleeping on a blow-up mattress. “She looked so sad. When I told her I had a bed for her, her eyes brightened.”
The agency head said Fred Schuller had recently found storage for a bunch of beds that the Crowne Plaza had donated to her organization.
The goodsflow in both directions. “Some organizations around the region who help people send their trucks and we fill them up,” she said of the wide network of help that eminates from the Tupper-based agency.
For the volunteers who always try to do their best to help people, the work can be rewarding.
“When people come in with tears in their eyes and thank us because we have made a difference in their lives, your heart just melts!” said the president.
Holly Clark and her mother Sharon were organizing the displays and the goods that fill them during our visit last week.
Holly, who works at Mercy, has met a lot of people during the days she has spent at Family Champions. “Their eyes light up...they are just so happy for the help we give them!”
All of the contents of the store are free to needy people. The clothing is all clean and neatly organized and tagged by size.
“We give away everything...we sell nothing,” notes Mrs. Vaillancourt. “We rely solely on donations of money and merchandise to operate!”
Merchandise can now be dropped off at the new locationduring the four mornings. “-Or if it's something large like a bed or a dresser and it's after hours, I like people to call me at 524-1244 so we can make arrangements to bring it inside.”
Family Champions isalways in need of volunteers. “We like to have two volunteers staffing the place when we are open,” Mrs. Vaillancourt says of the operation.
The Family Champions staff worked with the Kiwanis Club's Castle of Toys this past month in the preparation of over 100 shopping bags for local children. Each bag, with about $100 in items, included a new toy, a new outfit, new pajamas, a coloring book and a stuffed animal. Coats were placed in some.
Some of the Family Champions services touch those at Adirondack Medical Center and at Mercy Living Center.
Through Family Champions various types of medical equipment like lifts, walkers, wheelchairs, canes, commodes, etc. can be obtained.
“All we ask people is if they don't need the pieces anymore, please return them to us.”
For more information about Family Champions, people can call the new store at 359-9110. Plan a visit today, and you'll be amazed at all you will find there.
by Dan McClelland