Story and Photos By Jondi Gumz
For Jelli Beanz, a children’s resale shop popular for 14 years with parents in the know, the pandemic was devastating.
Founder Stephanie Hendersen didn’t have enough sales to survive. That would have meant shutting down Hopes Closet, her nonprofit: Providing at no charge bundles of clothing, books and toys to 300 children a month.
Hendersen, who lives in Aptos, found a way to keep that operation going and give parents a place to shop for affordable clothes, books toys for their children.
Her solution: Close the no-longer-profitable JelliBeanz and reopen as the nonprofit Hopes Closet.
At the storefront, 2555 Soquel Drive, Santa Cruz, across from the flea market site, customers will see a bright and freshly painted shop, with racks organized by size, gently used, everything washed and clean, some with tags still on.
Kids tops and shorts are priced at $4 each. Shoes that would sell for $15-$30 in a department store are $8.
Hendersen said the prices are lower than when she was trying to make a profit and she thanked her landlord for giving her a break on rent for the first year.
Parents can keep a watchful eye on their kids playing in an enclosed area, and there’s a display of 25-cent toys where kids might make their own selection.
“My daughter grew up here,” said Donna Odryna, board president for Hopes Closet, who help Hendersen incorporate the nonprofit part of her venture 10 years ago.
Behind the scenes, volunteers make magic happen.
Bags and bags of clothing are donated at the rollup door. The pantry-size room fills up fast.
Volunteers wearing Hopes Closet aprons sort through everything, to see what is suitable for children in need and what could be sold in shop to buy items that haven’t been donated — like boys jeans size 14-16. There’s never enough of those.
Once everything is sorted, it is organized into bins for boys and girls and by size. Books and toys are organized by age as well so to make it easier for volunteers to assemble their “bundles of joy.”
The bundle, which includes fresh changes of clothing for a week plus books and toys, is a blessing for foster families who welcome children into their home at short notice. And any other family with children in need.
Volunteers work hard to match up what’s in the bundle with the child, so a notation indicating “likes Minnie Mouse” will prompt a search.
Toys that arrive with wear and tear get tender loving care, like the Barbie and Ken dolls that look like new. Some volunteers sew or crochet clothes by hand to give dolls new outfits.
“Once the needs are met, we send things out front, but we have this flow to make sure kids with needs are receiving,” said Hendersen.
The shop has a couple of train tables on sale..
That’s the kind of donation put up for sale, Hendersen said, because families with a child in need usually don’t have room for a large toy — a sale could fund a new pair of shoes, always needed as children grow.
In fact, shoes are the reason Hendersen started Hopes Closet. A teacher friend told her that a student had stopped coming to school because that child didn’t have a pair of shoes.
Hendersen gave her a pair of shoes, the child went back to school, and Hendersen had her mission in life.
She started a tradition in October called “Socktober” to get more new socks for children in need as the weather turns cool.
Since Hopes Closet was incorporated as a nonprofit, more than 20,000 “bundles of joy” have gone to children in need.
However, the need is greater.
“We have a wait list,” said Hendersen. “We never get enough of certain sizes.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic shutting retail stores and then fears that the contagious virus lingered on surfaces, later found to be untrue, sales at JelliBeanz plummeted.
Hendersen closed for three months, and her college student employees made no money. Even the Payroll Protection Program forgivable loan wasn’t enough to recover.
The change took just three weeks from the closure of JelliBeanz to the opening of Hopes Closet shop.
With the shift to nonprofit operation, plans are to build up the volunteer crew so paid employees will no longer be needed.
Kids are still outgrowing their clothes, books and toys — and families are donating their stuff, knowing it will do good elsewhere.
With the change well underway, Hendersen is leaving to work in the medical field. The board has posted her job as executive director.
“I’m very, very grateful,” she said. “The resource we worked so hard to create will continue.”
To volunteer, email [email protected] or call 831-462-6700.
Hopes Closet Shop is located at 2555 Soquel Drive, Santa Cruz, across from the flea market site.
Hours: Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Information: www.hopesclosetsc.com/
Cover Photo: Jackie Crossley, a social worker and a member of the board of Hopes Closet, eyes the selection at the nonprofit, which she discovered through a client.