There are three interconnected buildings along a busy section of Talbot Street in St. Thomas that are all operated by the Canadian Mental Health Association, Elgin Branch. Everything that goes on inside has one purpose: to help people with severe mental illness live with independence and dignity in their community. But walk through any one of those three doors and you will find a different way of achieving that goal.
One door opens into Talbot Trends, a shop open Monday through Friday from 10:00AM to 2:00PM which provides free clothing to people in need.
“We saw an opportunity to help our members expand their vocational skills in a retail environment and also to fill a need in the community,” says Tara Portiss, a Mental Health Worker employed by CMHA. “There are so many people without access to affordable clothing.”
A product of vocational rehabilitation initiatives in the mental health sector, the site is staffed by member volunteers who process and wash clothing donations, label and sort clothes onto the rack, help customers find sizes, and tidy the racks.
Clothing at the shop is available to CMHA members, to people who are homeless or living in transitional housing, and to other people in need through referral.
“People can come in and fill one bag of clothing per week,” says Kat Zehr, a member of CMHA since 2007 who has volunteered at the shop. “It has been really nice for people at the Inn Out of the Cold shelter, or for parents who can’t afford clothes for their children.”
Zehr was involved in the work getting Talbot Trends ready for its launch in August 2013. There was an overwhelming response from the community to the initial call for clothing donations and a large investment of time was needed to process them.
Located at 659 Talbot Street, the shop accepts donations of adult and children’s clothing during its hours of operation, as well as some useful household items such as bedding. In particular, there is a need for men’s clothing.
The experience of being involved in the shop was especially rewarding for Portiss this past winter. “Some of our members would come in under-dressed for the weather because they couldn’t afford anything warmer. Our volunteers were able to help them find a coat and send them back out knowing that they will be safe and warm.”