Betsy Peterson, left, and Ann Long look at dresses for sale at the Wish Project in North Chelmsford.
Betsy Peterson, left, and Ann Long look at dresses for sale at the Wish Project in North Chelmsford. (SUN/ELIZABETH DOBBINS)

CHELMSFORD — A Minnie Mouse dress. A bundt cake pan. A puzzle featuring Dalmatians.

Those are a few of the items that caught the eye of volunteers Ann Long and Betsy Peterson as they sorted through donations to the Wish Project.

"Ann and I are extremely picky," Peterson said.

All were selected for the thrift shop at the Wish Project's location at 166 Middlesex St., in North Chelmsford. Proceeds from the store go to the Wish Project to help fund its mission of providing baby goods and household items to people in need.

The shop features items donated to the Wish Project that aren't directly sent to clients for a variety of reasons. Many of the items are decorative, or in the case of some clothes, out of season, Long and Peterson said.

But everything is new or nearly new, according to Long. To keep the selection fresh for shoppers, some who come by every week, Long and Peterson make sure the stock changes frequently.

"The secret is really — because we are a small space — is to kind of get things out and, if they don't move, refresh it," Peterson said.

Driven by its success, the shop is expected to expand in the near future, but remain in the same location, they said.

Both Long and Peterson are longtime volunteers for the Wish Project.

Peterson, a 72-year-old Wilmington resident, said she first got involved about ten years ago when she retired. She said she heard about the Wish Project through her church, Wilmington United Methodist Church.


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Long, who is also retired, said she got involved several years later. She is 56 and lives in Tewksbury.

The two carpool to the Wish Project together two to three times a week.

They became the "Ann and Betsy team" around the time they started the thrift shop five years ago.

The idea for the thrift shop came from the success of several yard sales benefiting the Wish Project, which they held at Peterson's church.

"Before we had the thrift store we would keep the items then sell it at the yard sale," Long said. "And that did so well we decided to try this out."

Peterson said they kept pushing for a thrift shop and eventually they were able to open. They still hold one yard sale a year with the next one planned for September.

Both said volunteering for the Wish Project is an opportunity to give back.

"For the household goods and things, most of these people are going through shelters and to apartments for the first time and you know what that's like," Peterson said. "You're looking at bare walls and you have nothing to fill it."

For their efforts they were nominated for a volunteer award from the Non-Profit Alliance of Greater Lowell this spring.

Chief Executive Officer David Fitzgerald said 3,000 volunteers work a total of 7,000 hours for the Wish Project annually. Peterson and Long are among the 15 to 20 regulars.

"They're just like family," he said. "They're just like part of us."

Follow Elizabeth Dobbins on Twitter @ElizDobbins