MACHIAS, Maine — When you’ve adopted five children, it is clear you already have an altruistic nature. But in her retirement, Joyce Getchell of Machias has found another way to give to her larger community while still serving children’s needs.
Getchell operates the Wee Care Community Baby Center in Machias — a quiet little place on Route 1 with a small sign out front. Many who drive by have no idea what the unobtrusive center accomplishes.
Every Tuesday, moms, dads and grandparents line up for diapers, wipes, baby food, blankets, clothing and advice.
“My goal is just to help people that need it,” Getchell said this week.
The center began handing out baby items almost seven years ago. Today Getchell serves 90 children under age 4 from Cherryfield to Perry.
The need in Washington County is great.
The poverty rate in Washington County is 19.1 percent, according to the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center. The Smith center estimates that 16.7 percent of Maine’s children live below the poverty level, while in Washington County, 28.4 percent of children live in poverty — more than one in four.
“This is why I feel the need so desperately here,” Getchell said.
The idea for the center began when Getchell read of a similar place in Massachusetts.
“I called them up and asked them for advice,” she said. “We originally opened up in a local church, but we quickly outgrew that.”
She is outgrowing her current space as well. The center, about the size of an average living room, is lined with racks of diapers and baby wipes, racks full of clean clothes — all washed and dried at home by Getchell — cases of baby food, toys, books, baby bathtubs and other equipment.
Getchell is assisted in her work by a lone volunteer, Marian Foss.
“We are extremely fortunate that the landlord rents us this space for $350 a month, including utilities,” she said.
The rent is paid through donations, but Getchell admits that she dips into her own savings when necessary.
“We pretty much live hand-to-mouth here,” she said. “Our expenses for the month total about $900, not including rent. But we could certainly provide much, much more.”
Getchell said the center “gets no cut rate on diapers. We watch for sales, clip coupons.”
The center’s biggest need is cash and diapers, she said.
She said the center plays a vital role, particularly for young parents with no extended family.
“We have moms, dads, grandparents, even students,” she said. “At least 10 percent of our parents are actually grandparents, raising their own grandchildren, and they really need our help.”
The center has only a few rules: All children must be under 4 years of age, families must come from the immediate area, and they must show a Medicare card or a Women, Infants and Children Nutrition Program, or WIC, voucher to qualify.
The center is open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays only.
“Our typical client is a low-income, seasonal worker, like fishermen, harvesters,” Getchell said.
One of the prime roles Wee Care fills is as a referral center. Getchell said she can direct parents to state and local agencies for other assistance programs.
“We aren’t professionals, by any means,” she said. “We’re just moms.”