TOWNSEND -- When Matt and Yun Swierk took over the Harbor Village Dry Cleaners for Yun's parents eight years ago, local residents welcomed the couple and new business owners with open arms. Having grown up watching her uncle run the business, Yun was already a familiar face around town. When her uncle moved to California, Yun's parents, not wanting to sell the business, asked the couple to run it as a favor until they figured out their next steps.
"I never thought I'd get involved in this business, but the opportunity came and we took it," said Matt. "Once we came here and began dealing with the people, we fell in love with the place."
Nearly a decade later, the budding family has developed not only into respected small business owners but a piece of the town's extended family. Upon walking into the place, it's no rarity to see Matt addressing each customer by name and catching up like old friends, or to see another customer dropping off a baby gift for the couple's new addition.
Although he hadn't envisioned getting involved in the dry cleaning business, Matt said he had long thought about being a small business owner. If he did, he knew he wanted to take the opportunity to use his business as a venue to conduct charitable work for his community. And that is exactly what he and Yun are now doing.
The couple is holding a toys and clothing drive from the New England Dream Center's annual Dreams and Wishes Day in Worcester. The national program serves thousands of underprivileged children and their families each year, providing the with toys and winter clothing. This year's event has already reached attendance capacity. Each year, the center is transformed into the North Pole. Toys from tiny teddy bears to full-sized bicycles line the walls, up for the taking by the children in need, while parents are given gift baskets. Warm winter clothing is provided for every member of the family. All the while, singing, dancing, theater, games, arts and crafts, and photos with Santa Claus brighten up the day of the families in attendance.
"It's a cool concept. What they do is kind of create a Santa's Workshop. Kids come in and make an ornament with Santa, there's food and hot cocoa throughout the day," said Matt.
Each item donated through the Harbor Village Cleaners will go toward the holiday festivities. Matt and Yun are looking for gently worn warm-weather clothes for people of all ages and new, packaged toys. The donations will be picked up on Dec. 15.
Matt became aware of the program through Dave Bushrow, a sales representative for dry cleaning products and a volunteer for the organization. Bushrow had been trying to generate clothing donations through the dry cleaners he worked with.
"I looked into it and thought it was a really cool idea," said Matt.
With recent devastation both local and nationwide, from the fire in Leominster to Hurricane Sandy, Matt said, "Everywhere you turn, people just need help. We're not looking to move mountains. We're just trying to help as much as we can."
The couple was particularly drawn to the New England Dream Center knowing that it would benefit a nearby community. In the future, Matt said, he hopes to help out even more locally with the Townsend Ecumenical Outreach and the Pepperell Aid from Community to Home.
"It's just that feeling, because we're a small business in a small community, that sense of connection with our community," said Matt.
That has become especially true with how connected he and Yun have become with their customers.
"We have a general interest in what people are doing," said Matt. "They're involved in our lives. Everyone saw Yun grow up and now they're seeing our kids grow up and we see their kids grow up."