Melrose People: Sharon Burton

Burton has lived in Melrose for 15 years with her husband William Burton, a CPA in Wakefield, and their daughter Elizabeth, 13.

Sharon, have you always worked for non-profits?

No, I worked in high-tech for 17 years for BMC Corp., a computer software company based in Texas. I did human resources. It was challenging [for my family] with two professionals; my husband and I both worked at demanding jobs.

I took a job with Hallmark Health’s development group through the VNA [Visiting Nurse Association], and did that for two years. Then, three years ago, I moved to the WIC [Women, Infants and Children] program. It kind-of pulled on all my skills: I used my skills in human resources — I’m a recruiter by nature — and my skills as a marketing program person. This job is community-based. My job is to promote the WIC program to doctors, mostly ob/gyns and pediatricians. The other part of my job is “social marketing,” or getting involved in the community.

Were you surprised to receive the Tri-CAP’s Community Service Award?

Well, there are reasons I got the award. I’ve been on Headstart’s Policy Council for three years, serving with parents. Also, we started the Mothers Helping Mothers Free Clothing Store in Malden at Hallmark’s office there. It serves a lot of area communities

What is the store, exactly?

In addition to clothing, which is donated, the store carries equipment such as cribs, strollers and double-strollers. I got the hospital involved and got them to give us space. It started at Malden Hospital two Christmases ago. We got two small Community Health Network Grants to get a storage system — two bins — to gather the donated clothing. Karen Andrews did this program — the Family Assistance Program — through the North Suburban Network; she got the Melrose Chamber of Commerce’s Community Person award for her work.

We got a $2,500 grant last year, and got a $4,000 grant his year. We’re going to put a safety component in at the store, and we’re partnering with Babies R Us in Everett to get car seats. Parents will be given discount coupons to redeem at Babies R Us. This is still being worked out.

How big is the store?

People don’t actually go into the store to shop; instead, it’s a big storage place. People come here for an appointment and to discuss what they need. It’s now a fully operation store with donations from the community, and it services over 500 children and prenatal moms.

What is a typical need a mother or family might have?

A lot of prenatal mothers sign up on a wish list and they’ll get one big piece of equipment: a boppy pillow; a crib; a stroller; a playpen; or a swing. Mothers coming in are also usually looking for seasonal clothing. They usually have two children, and one is a baby. The store handles anybody in the area. Some people even come from Cambridge.

How do people know how and where to donate to the shop?

People see our flyers, hear about us in doctor’s offices, and they call us to make a donation. Some women will bring things that are expensive. One woman from Stoneham donates a lot of equipment, and I asked her if she’d rather sell it on eBay, but she said “no,” she’d rather give it to us.

The only thing I cannot take is toys — I’m not in the toy business! People call and say, “They’re very nice!” [about their toys], but I can’t take them. We’d be overwhelmed. We also receive support from community organizations. As an example, the Most Blessed Sacrament Church in Wakefield donated diapers and wipes through Lent, which we now have in the store. They also collected change and with the money we purchased gift cards from CVS and Stop & Shop. It’s becoming a place where people come and say, “we’d like to do something.”

Hallmark has really helped us as well. They’ve put in extensive shelving at the store. This solves a big problem; we now have the space. And there’s collaboration between the Family Network and WIC. The Head Start community really benefits from the store. On Aug. 15, we close the store and flip [the inventory] to fall and winter clothes. We really promote it to the Head Start families.

What can you tell us about your work with the WIC program?

The WIC program handles the communities of Malden, Medford, Melrose, Everett, Wakefield, Stoneham, Reading, North Reading, Wilmington, Winchester, Burlington and Woburn. [According to additional information on the WIC web site, the WIC program “… provides nutritional counseling and education, free nutritious foods, and access to health care for low to moderate income pregnant women, infants and children under five in Malden, Everett, Medford, Stoneham, Wakefield and Reading.]

Do you see mothers often?

Yes! WIC is really a program for lower income folks, but we have a tremendous volume of people coming through here who don’t fit that category. We have a lot of moms of twins or triplets, and no matter what you make it’s not enough. We also have a lot of special programs such as collaboration with Melrose-Wakefield Hospital’s new Baby Café, and other programs like a Mother’s Group. We offer a lot of programs through grants that the hospital helps us with.

Are you welcomed at doctor’s offices when you stop in to advise them about WIC programs?

Yes, they are very welcoming. I go in unobtrusively and then jump through hoops when they call. Some of the doctors I know, some I don’t. But some of the office workers are women, some are single mothers and they know what it’s like to struggle.

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