In 2014, Sault resident Wendy Gutcher had a dream to help those, many of them homeless, who need clothing and other items with a desire to ease the burdens in their lives.
Now, that dream, located in a bricks and mortar sense as Sault Ste. Marie Helping Hands at 144-146 Gore St., is in danger of coming to an end.
“We’re having huge financial difficulties because COVID-19 really set us back. We had to shut our doors for four months,” said Gutcher, Sault Ste. Marie Helping Hands president, speaking to SooToday.
After being allowed to reopen its doors when COVID restrictions eased in the summer, Sault Ste. Marie Helping Hands had to close again for three weeks due to flooding.
The centre is open once more, but a GoFundMe page has been set up, asking for financial donations.
Though her landlord paid for flood repairs, Gutcher said “we’ve only got enough money to pay our bills here until the end of December, and if we do not have enough money coming in to pay all the bills, we will have to shut the doors.”
“This is my dream. We’re non-profit,” Gutcher said, anticipating Sault Ste. Marie Helping Hands will receive official status as a charitable operation.
“It was a dream of mine to start this since I was a little child. I’ve always wanted to help people, I’ve always been like that my whole life,” Gutcher said.
Despite suffering from regional sympathetic dystrophy – a disorder that causes lasting pain, usually in an arm or leg, after a stroke, heart attack or, in Gutcher’s case, an injury – since 2006, she launched Sault Ste. Marie Helping Hands from her own home in 2014.
“I had donations coming in. I had bins of (donated) clothes, I would wash the clothes, fold them, have homeless people from the community come into my own home, have a few volunteers, put the clothes in different bins with different sizes.”
“It took over my life. It took over my house.”
Word of her work spread through Facebook, the District of Sault Ste. Marie Social Services Administration Board (DSSMSSAB) arranging for Gutcher to operate her charitable work from a location at 112 Crawford Ave.
“This was my ‘addiction.’ I felt if I could just help one person once a day, 365 people in a year, people will get it, they will start believing it is better to give than receive. You can't take your stuff with you when you’re gone,” Gutcher said, urging people to donate those new or good quality second hand clothes and household items they don’t need.
Eventually, Sault Ste. Marie Helping Hands moved to its donation depot at 144 Gore St., its store at 146 Gore St., in 2019.
“I will basically let people sign in, sanitize their hands, walk around and look for whatever they need. I’ll ask them what they want to pay. This is all just to pay for our rent, our PUC, our bills that need to be paid,” Gutcher said.
“Sault Ste. Marie Helping Hands is your home away from a home you may not have.”