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iBerkshires.com Columnist Section

Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Friday Health Focus: The Women's Exchange

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Friday, June 02, 2006

Women's Exchange Manager Christine Lapedota
Williamstown - The Women's Exchange may have it all in terms of community service.

Money Well Spent

The Cole Avenue consignment shop offers clothing for women, men, and children at what most shoppers consider to be very reasonable prices. The clothing is predominantly second-hand but is, for the most part, in excellent condition. It is not uncommon to find items by top designers hanging from the shop's display racks. A separate building houses "Exchange II," where tableware, some furniture items, and additional household accessories may be purchased at
budget-accommodating prices.

Clothing selection is almost always abundant and runs the gamut from womens' blouses, sweaters and skirts, mens' dress shirts and suit jackets to formal wear and outerwear.

A $50 exchange-based shopping spree may create a new wardrobe. And shop profits may be used to help a neighbor acquire an expensive emergency medication, help send a new mother home with a digital thermometer for her infant, help an elderly person purchase a pair of badly-needed therapeutic shoes, or pay for specialized nurse training.

"Our mission is to help provide health care to the community," said Women's Exchange Manager Christine Lapedota during a June 1 interview.

The mission is achieved in many ways.

For example, during 2005, the non-profit entity contributed $10,000 to the Northern Berkshire Healthcare CARE Campaign, which helped fund the major renovations at the North Adams Regional Hospital. Another $5,000 went to the NBH EXCEL Annual Appeal, which helps fund new equipment purchases and trainings as well as other NBH-affiliated initiatives. A program that assists eligible NARH emergency room patients pay for necessary medications prescribed as a result of an ER visit was given a $1,500 donation. Another $1,000 was given toward the purchase of digital thermometers presented to new mothers before they and their infant children leave the hospital and head for home. The Exchange made a similar donation in 2003.

The total donations for 2005 equaled $20,000, and monies have already been awarded to the ER prescription drug program during this year. In 2004, the Exchange donated $8,000 that paid for a nurse to receive specialized wound care training; a local bank matched the donation which meant another nurse was able to acquire similar education. Many Northern Berkshire residents have benefited from the training received by the nurses, Lapedota said.

"This is the kind of thing that you don't hear about very often," Lapedota said of the donations and the programs that the monies support.

How It Works

Consigned items are priced by Exchange workers. The money generated by the sale of an item is split 50-50 between the group and the person who has offered the item for sale. Crafters may receive 75 percent of an item's sale price, but crafters must be willing to offer several hand-made items for sale.

"If crafters are willing to come in with handmade items - and they have to bring in several things- they get 75 percent," she said. "But it can't be one thing that someone made 20 years ago."

The shop has offered numerous handmade baby items with great success, she noted.

"People were always looking for the handmade baby blankets, the shawls, the little sweaters," she said.

The shop operates a group-specific fundraising program that allows shoppers to send additional funds to chosen organizations. For example, at present, the Williamstown Youth Center receives 100 percent of the profits from items bearing a neon-blue price ticket, while Berkshire Nursing Families receives the total profit from sale of items with a red-and-white ticket. The money is given to the groups on a monthly basis, Lapedota said.

"This program enables the groups to have access to almost immediate money," she said. "They can get the money each month."

Organizations that are interested in becoming a beneficiary of the program must submit a letter to the exchange advisory board that explains what the group does and how the group benefits the community.

The organization must offer some type of community-based health promotion, education, or advocacy; for example, the youth center offers nutrition counseling to youngsters. Past beneficiaries of the program include the Jane Kelley Therapeutic Shoe Fund, which is operated through the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation and provides therapeutic footwear to eligible Berkshire region elderly or disabled men and women who require specific shoes, and the Berkshire Community Action Center.

Helping The Region EXCEL

The Exchange sponsors a yearly wreath sale, with scores of volunteers crafting holiday wreaths of diverse size. The funds raised through the project are earmarked for the EXCEL fund, Lapedota said. The new gift shop opened last month at the NARH also contributes its' profits to EXCEL, and the shop has been doing a very good business since it opened, Lapedota said.

"It's going really well," she said. "We are open seven days a week, and we could use more volunteers to staff the gift shop."

50 Years Of Community Support

The Exchange was founded in 1957 by Eleanor Bloedel with a goal of providing funding for community health care initiatives. The organization joined the NBH in 1999.

The entity is presently staffed by about 40 volunteers and four paid employees; about 50 percent of the volunteers have devoted at least two decades of service to the Exchange and its' mission.

Mary Flynt has given of her time for 43 years, Virginia Schroeder has donated several hours weekly for 41 years, and Ruth Greene has been an Exchange presence for 34 years. "Chummy" Schoen and Janet Patterson each claim 28 years of volunteer service.

"This is their shop," Lapedota said of the volunteers. "I coordinate the work, but they do the work. And they know the job, believe me."

Plans are underway in anticipation of the Exchange's 50th anniversary.

"We are going to celebrate our 50th anniversary on Feb. 15, 2007,"Lapedota said. "We are gearing up for our 50th, and everyone is excited about it. It rejuvenates our mission."

Women's Exchange store hours are Tues.-Fri. 9:30 a.m.- 4 p.m. and Sat. 9:30 a.m.- 3 p.m.. Hours to drop off consignment items are Tues.-Fri. 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m..

The NARH gift shop is open Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sat.-Sun. 2 p.m. - 6 p.m..

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
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