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Judy Foreman: Recovery Free Shop Matches Merchandise to Montecito Disaster Survivors

With style and aplomb, grassroots effort quickly provides more than wardrobes for those who have lost everything

The women behind Montecito’s Recovery Project are, from left, Susan St. John, Heather Sage, Berna Kieler and Cathy Link. The initiative’s pop-up shop in the Montecito Country Mart is serving flash flood survivors through the end of the month.
The women behind Montecito’s Recovery Project are, from left, Susan St. John, Heather Sage, Berna Kieler and Cathy Link. The initiative’s pop-up shop in the Montecito Country Mart is serving flash flood survivors through the end of the month. (Judy Foreman / Noozhawk photo)

Montecito may have been knocked off its pedestal of paradise but it’s the people who live here who are the real treasures.

Yes, you’ll see the names of many Montecito residents on leadership boards of Santa Barbara’s top civic and philanthropic organizations. But many more quietly go about their lives doing good deeds and shunning recognition.

Never has the need for angels been more appreciated than after the back-to-back blows of the past three months. Montecitans are sad, tired and on edge. Hearing everyone’s cell phone evacuation warnings go off at the same time at Tre Lune this past Thursday felt like a bad Seinfeld episode.

One of our newest resources for TLC is The Recovery Project, a community action effort by neighbors for neighbors in response to the Thomas Fire and deadly Montecito flash flooding and mudflows.

Launched by Berna Kieler, who started providing for people first from her own closet and then by asking her friends and neighbors for “the shirts off their backs,” the initiative has been an enormous success.

Kieler was joined by friends Cathy Link, Heather Sage and Susan St. James, who helped create a dedicated home for a Recovery Free Store where survivors could find wardrobe replacements. The shop opened March 3 in Montecito Country Mart, in a vacant space donated rent-free by landlord Jim Rosenfield.

The Recovery Free Store is exclusively for disaster survivors. The quartet wanted to create a warm and welcoming space, and the pop-up shop provides nourishing soup from the Organic Soup Kitchen, another grassroots organization.

The shop features new and gently used family clothing and footwear. Local stores such as Wendy Foster, Whiskey + Leather, Hudson | Grace and Eileen Fisher have donated goods for men and women.

Is this a display of high-end merchandise or donated clothing and accessories? Yes. Click to view larger
Is this a display of high-end merchandise or donated clothing and accessories? Yes. (Judy Foreman / Noozhawk photo)

Leaving Vons the other morning, I stopped by and was impressed at how professionally merchandised the store was. The staff and volunteers help people navigate their way through all the clothes, taking time to style some outfits as they go. The staff has worked hard to create a stylish setting while personally attending to those who have lost most of their wardrobes.

Survivors are asked to provide a driver’s license or utility bill with an address.

“Anyone is welcome in the store in support with friends and family or coworkers, or to shop for victims remotely,” Kieler said. “But we hope to get the clothes to those in dire need first.”

The March 31 store closing will be a community affair, featuring food from the Organic Soup Kitchen, music and a celebration honoring the volunteers and community partners.

Donations can be dropped off between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily through March 31 at the Recovery Free Shop, 1016 Coast Village Road. Hangers are appreciated.

If you or someone you know has suffered losses in this disaster, contact The Recovery Project at [email protected], or click here for more information.

— Judy Foreman is a Noozhawk columnist and longtime local writer and lifestyles observer. She can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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