Tables have turned on Milton's Helping Hands

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A sign explains to passers-by the store's recent plight. (Lebanon Voice photo)

MILTON - Two years ago Rick and Beulah Sather opened up their Helping Hands thrift shop in downtown Milton in hopes of helping the area's needy.

Now, it looks like the thrift shop/donation center could use some help of its own.

In addition to a recent water leak that closed the store, Rick Sather said on Friday he was battling Facebook fraud and a rising tide of social media criticism that has left him perplexed and saddened.

Hard to believe that just a few months ago the Sathers were being celebrated at a selectmen's meeting for service to the community.

The store was known for its generosity to those needing basic household items like sheets, curtains, silverware, dishes and plates. If folks didn't have the money, they'd just give it to them for free.

"It's gone bad just in the past couple of months," Rick Sather said. "We don't know if we'll be here for the winter."

Central to the current crisis is a five- to seven-hour water leak that Sather said was intentionally caused in a vacant apartment above his business.

He said the leak damaged a lot of clothing he had in the building's basement and all the Christmas toys he was going to donate to needy Milton families for the holidays.

"Chunks of ceiling came down," he said. "I'm trying to do the cleaning myself. The water went through the insulation; it was leaking down as brown water. I can't have anybody in here till it's clean."

Sather estimates it'll cost between $1,500 and $2,000 to open the store and that's with him and his wife doing all of the work.

But that's just the start of recent troubles for the store, which was heralded as a godsend two years ago when it first came to town.

Sather said store workers stole merchandise, and in one instance, his rent money for the store. Asked if he intended to press charges, he said no.

He also said a Facebook page set up that purports to be his Helping Hands store is a fraud. He said he never set up a Facebook page, and he suspects whoever did it just wanted to get free donations to sell from unwary benefactors.

"I've had people come by the store to see if we'd sold or given away their stuff, and they say, 'Hey, you aren't the guys that came by and picked it up,'" he said.

He also said selectmen were angry with him over stuff left outside the building and that social media was criticizing him as well.

While Sather's not sure what lies ahead, he said he'd like to stay and will probably know in a couple of weeks if they'll be trying to make it through another winter, when the building uses about a hundred gallons of heating oil every week, he said.

In the meantime while the store is closed, he'll be open outside on the sidewalk every weekend.

He said parts of the store inside could be open in as early as two weeks.

Selectmen and other town officials called Friday for comment on this story did not return phone calls.

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