Opening up Gammy’s Closet in Lawrence

Helping those Five Towners in need with food and clothes

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When Sasha Young needed anything as a youngster, she said, she could count on her “Gammy,” Betty Young, to provide it. While Sasha, now 41 and an Inwood resident, now lives nearly 500 miles from Betty, who’s now a West Virginian, Sasha called her “the inspiration behind everything good that I do.”

Sasha’s latest initiative, at the Five Towns Community Center, which she has been involved with for seven years, is a food pantry service named Gammy’s Pantry. Though it operates on an outreach-only basis for now, Young said she hopes the pantry will soon be open to all, at least for a couple of nights per week.

“People are already pretty tapped out before the holidays,” she said, referring to the large population of people in the area who are living in poverty. “We hope we can kick off the giving around Thanksgiving, and keep it going throughout the rest of the year.”

Stacey Dunbar, another Inwood resident, said that she regularly tries to help Young with these sorts of projects, and that she has collected some food to be donated. Dunbar said she believes Gammy’s Pantry holds potential lessons for some of the young people who attend the community center’s youth services programs. “It’s important kids learn to share and give back to the community,” she said. “Everyone can be of help to someone else, even if it’s in a small way.”

Dunbar and Michelle Saninosencia, who is also from Inwood, noted the need for a food pantry in the area. “It can be hard to get enough food sometimes,” said Saninosencia, who has collected donations for the pantry. “Our Lady of Good Council” — a Catholic church in Inwood — “has a food pantry, but it’s open just once a month.”

Dunbar agreed that it would be great for the Five Towns community if there were another place people could go for assistance, perhaps more regularly. “I’d see people walking to [the church] in all sorts of weather,” she said. “People count on it, especially during the holidays.”

Along with providing food-insecure families with supplies, Young has also started Gammy’s Closet, and is soliciting donations of clothes and toiletries as well. “Teens may not have the clothes they need for a job interview,” she said. “They also might be more likely to participate in community events if they have the right outfit.”

The center is looking for donations of new or like-new clothing for Gammy’s Closet, along with nonperishable food items and toiletries. Young said that contributions to either effort can be left at the community center, at 270 Lawrence Ave. in Lawrence, addressed to her.

Young and members of the center’s middle school youth services program moved the donations they received from her “Homework Zen Den” to a more suitable area of the center last week. The Zen Den was part of the facility’s reworked youth services initiative that began in September, with the goal of helping students become more rounded and better problem solvers, while giving them a place to do schoolwork. It gradually morphed into a storage center for donations.

Young’s program isn’t the community center’s only initiative this holiday season. This Saturday at 11:30 a.m., the Islamic Circle of North America a not-for-profit that supports food pantries, homeless shelters and health clinics — will give away winter coats, warm clothes and canned food at the center.

Should Gammy’s Pantry and Closet receive enough donations to do so, Young said that she would like to open them both to the public two or three days a week. She added that volunteers would be needed then as well. Email her at syoung@fivetownsmail.org.