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'Like a store without a cash register' for people in need in Williamstown, Massachusetts

Most communities in western Massachusetts have a food pantry or a meal site. But the First Congregational Church in Williamstown is home to a newly-minted nonprofit that's kind of like a food pantry, but without food. It's designed to provide essential items to people in need that other service programs don't.

Williamstown resident Andi Bryant, 56, helped start "Remedy Hall."

"I am from that demographic," Bryant said. "I know what it is to need."

She points out some of the neatly displayed-items stuffed inside a room in the church basement.

"[A] Pyrex measuring cup," she said picking up a glass cup. "Lots of toothpaste. Down here is feminine hygiene, hand sanitizer, soap — [a] bar of soap."

There are also canes, crutches and uniforms, that a CNA might need. Winter coats for adults and children are hung with care. There are boots and shoes, pillows and quilts — each one labeled and tied with a ribbon.

Bryant herself has needed help before. People gave her things, but often they were broken — which she said felt like a kind of punishment. So she makes sure every donated item is in good condition.

"All of the towels have been washed and folded," she said. "It's all part of dignity. It just has to be nice."

Carrie Greene, 61, co-founded Remedy Hall with Bryant. She said they started talking about it during the pandemic, when unmet needs in Williamstown "came to the surface more."

"All the need that had been very real in the community for a long time was made known to people in a way that it hadn't been before. And that's where we really got energized to make this happen," Greene said.

People from the community donate the items. One person sent a box of toothpaste they ordered from Amazon. A man brought in toilet paper that his wife didn't like. Another brought in a pair of used L.L.Bean boots with a soft, plush lining.

Bryant calls it a store without a cash register. It is open every weekday afternoon, but she comes in nights or weekends if that works better for a recipient. Bryant said some people don't want to be seen by others during regular hours and prefer more privacy.

"It gives me great pride and joy to see the happiness and the appreciation," Bryant said. "I go to bed at night knowing I've just helped somebody's struggle become a little less."

Since opening on Nov. 1, Remedy Hall has given away seven beds in seven weeks. The furniture is stored in another location.

Bryant said the toiletries go the quickest, along with winter clothes.

The group is supported by a small grant, but needs more volunteers to stock shelves and transport items to people who don't have cars.

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.