By Jeanne Sager
LIBERTY December 6, 2005 Dottie Bottaros got the best-kept secret in Sullivan County.
In a small room atop the CYO building at St. Peters Roman Catholic Church in Liberty, Bottaro runs a thrift shop with dignity.
Started almost 19 years ago by members of the parish, the shop is devoted entirely to children and moms.
Theres a section chock full of maternity clothing, a baby swing and ExerSaucer to entertain the infants while their moms peruse the racks of gently used items from The Childrens Place, Carters and Gymboree.
Nothing is priced higher than $3, but more than likely youll be putting together outfits of five pieces for just $1.
And if you cant pay, Bottaro turns her head.
Its not a necessity to have money up here, she said. The more we give out, the more we get back.
Bottaro has seen people down on their luck.
She cant even count the number of Sunday mornings shes been pulled out of church to open the shop for a set of grandparents.
The parents will be involved in a drug bust, and the grandparents wind up with the kids on Saturday night with no clothes, she said.
Even worse, Bottaros learned to pull two diapers out of each package of Pampers or Huggies she hands out if she didnt, she said sadly, the crack moms would return the entire lot to the store for money.
The stuff wasnt going to the babies, she said.
But the St. Peters Childrens Shop isnt a place that dwells on the hardships.
She gives a free book to each mother even those who can afford to pay.
I feel its important for kids to read, Bottaro explained. My son was in the Army with people who couldnt read.
And she doesnt just take anything to sell in the shop.
Bottaro and her assistants carefully examine each piece of clothing before they put it out on the racks.
My policy is, if I dont put it on my kids, I dont put it on your kids, she said.
And each item is washed thoroughly before its seen by the general public.
If you find something dirty, you get a free bag, she said. Thats the rule.
It took Bottaro a year to get rid of the smell common to thrift shops.
She found nursery decorations at yard sales, put them up on the walls of the shop and the walls of the stairwell that leads to the store.
The Winnie the Pooh decorations along the stairs were stolen as were the stuffed animals she placed outside to help shoppers spot the store among the many buildings on Main Street.
She gave a free carseat to a family and ended up getting sued she had to put a stop to handing out baby gear.
But Bottaro keeps plugging away.
It was a lot of work, but, you know, it was a lot of fun, she confessed.
She gets donations from as far away as Texas, all boxed up in a storage room across the hall from the shop.
I think Ive got the monopoly on baby clothes, she said with a laugh.
Each season, she cleans house, sending the clothes that didnt move along to other charities so mothers and fathers have fresh pickings the following year.
More than a decade ago, she started the layette program thats gotten the entire parish involved.
In November, children in the St. Peters Sunday School program make little tags to hang on a Jesse Tree at the church.
Each tag has a wish listed undershirts, diapers . . . everything to bring a baby home from the hospital, Bottaro noted.
Brand new items are purchased by church members, wrapped and placed beneath the tree.
On the Sunday of the Feast of the Epiphany (the day Catholics celebrate the visit the Three Kings, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, made to the Baby Jesus, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh), the people of the parish form a procession.
They carry the gifts over to the CYO building where the wrapping paper is torn open, and Bottaro and her helpers begin building layette baskets for expectant moms.
In 2005, they handed out almost 70 layettes along with more than 100 packages of diapers to new moms anyone who stopped by the shop to sign up.
Theres no income requirement. Moms who could afford to outfit a nursery are listed in the book along with moms who can barely afford the taxi fare for their ride home from the hospital.
The idea is to welcome the baby into the world with a lot of love, Bottaro said.
Bottaro has three children of her own. She lost one and had her own health struggles.
But she pulled through, she said, because God said he had something for me to do.
This is what God wants her to do, and thats why shes at the shop when shes needed.
The shop is officially open Wednesday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon, but Bottaro is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
She lives next door all I need is a rope, and Ill be over here, she said with a laugh.
The grandmother of 11, great-grandmother to two, is happiest at the shop cuddling a brand new baby.
Her customers are mostly from the Liberty area she calls the shop a secret because few moms know shes there.
But shes working hard to spread the news.
Its a lot of love, Bottaro said. But you get the love back.
Donations can be dropped at 264 North Main Street, and shoppers can drop by Wednesday and Saturday mornings.
Bottaro will meet people at any time so they can shop or drop off donations. She can be reached at 292-2852.