Sweater donated 12 years ago at Holley center remains symbol of hope

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 16 April 2022 at 7:50 am

Provided photo: Ashley Farrell’s granddaughter Annalaya wears the little blue sweater Farrell passed on to her. The sweater has special meaning for Farrell, who was living in Holley 12 years ago and found it at the Community Center.

HOLLEY – This is a tale of a little blue sweater, a tiny piece of clothing which had the power to lift and encourage one individual.

It’s story began at a very bad time in the life of Ashley Farrell, who decided recently to write about it and post it on Facebook. Nyla Gaylord of Clarendon, event coordinator and fundraiser for United Way of Orleans County, saw the post and forwarded it to Renee Hungerford, director of Community Action of Orleans and Genesee.

Hungerford asked Farrell to share her story.

Farrell, who now lives in Batavia, was down and out 12 years ago and frequently visited the Holley Community Center for food and donations of clothing.

“I went to the Center two or three times a week for lunch so I didn’t have to use up the little food I had in my house,” Farrell said.

On one of those days, someone had dropped off a box of clothing, and Farrell started to go through it. In it she found a little blue sweater.

“I grabbed it,” Farrell said. “My daughter Riley was 3 and she wore the sweater for two years, until she outgrew it. Then I passed it on to my niece Haidynn, who also wore it for three years. Then it came back to me. I had four daughters by then and the two youngest, Jaidynn and Jetta, wore it.”

The sweater was still in great condition, Farrell said. Through all the play dates, spilled juice, trips and tumbles, the blue sweater remained resilient. Many walks to the park and always the extra layer of clothing at school on those chilly days, the blue sweater became priceless. But its  life didn’t end there.

Farrell now has a granddaughter Annalaya, 2, who is going to get the sweater.

It’s only a small piece of clothing, but it’s sentimental value is overwhelming to Farrell.

“I found it when I needed help the most,” Farrell said. “It’s become a big piece of my family’s history. I look back now on the day I was rummaging through that box at the Community Center and I thank God, I thank the universe and all the powers you can’t see, but most importantly I thank myself.”

Hungerford stressed how a simple donation of that box of clothing impacted one family’s live.

“Everyone who donates or volunteers in any way has no idea how it can change somebody’s life,” she said.

Photos by Ginny Kropf: Ashley Farrell holds the little blue sweater someone donated to the Holley Community Center 12 years ago. She has passed on from her children to her niece, and now her granddaughter will get to wear it.

“The person who gave it away probably thought they were getting rid of clutter, but had no idea what it would mean to my family,” Farrell said.

Farrell often came to the Community Center for help in the past. She not only was fed there and found clothing for her family, but coordinator Debbie Rothmund used to help her out with money for gas and Annette Finch, recently retired director of Emergency Services, has given Farrell gas cards. When Farrell got a job at the Le Roy Village Green, she got her scrubs at the Community Center’s thrift room.

“Our mission is to help people become self sufficient and Ashley is a shining example,” Hungerford said.

Farrell said it has come full circle.

“I’ve been in homeless shelters and domestic violence shelters, and this little blue sweater reminds me of a time I don’t want to go back to,” Farrell said. “But it also reminds me of how far I’ve come. I’m on my feet now and any way I can help someone, I try to do it. I always try to inspire people and urge them not to give up. Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”

She recalls how people would look at her when she was asking for food and clothing.

“Don’t let your situation define you,” Farrell said. “If I can do it, you can do it.”

Rothmund said anyone who needs a support system is welcome at the Holley Community Center.

“I tell people, ‘I promise you in six months you’ll feel differently if you just keep going,’” she said.

Hungerford said Community Action needs volunteers, and she hopes people will take from this story how important it is to volunteer and donate.

From left, Renee Hungerford, director of Community Action; Debbie Rothmund, coordinator of the Holley Community Center; and Katrina Chaffee, director of Community Services and Reporting at Community Action, look at the little blue sweater Ashley Farrell found there 12 years ago. The sweater has become a symbol of hope and inspiration for Farrell’s family.