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Julie Silvia, an employee at the Jonnycake Center for Hope, works in the organization's thrift store on Oct. 3.

PEACE DALE, R.I. — Dresses of various colors hang on racks. If the mood is for blouses, there’s plenty and jeans to match. Warm insulated vests shout that summer is begrudgingly giving way to more frequent cold weather.  

These clothes and more can be found in the heart of Peace Dale at the Jonnycake thrift store, which recently re-opened following a months-long closure when the coronavirus sapped the life out of many local stores catering to walk-in traffic.

“We’re spoiled at Jonnycake,” said Brianna Frame of North Kingstown, a regular who stopped by when word spread that customers could return. “My mother-in-law and I go to other stores, but we don’t find anything,” she added.

Kate Brewster, executive director of the Jonnycake Center for Hope, said she is happy to be serving once again those in need and those also looking for a good bargain.

“We are thrilled to re-open our thrift store and are thankful to all of the donors and shoppers who patiently waited for it to be safe for our volunteers and staff to return,” she said.

“We have received an outpouring of amazing apparel, accessories and artwork. Sales from these donations translate directly to food and services for our members,” Brewster explained about clothing giving the gift of food.

The center serves residents of South Kingstown, Narragansett, Block Island, and Jamestown. Approximately 35 percent of its members are children and 15 percent are seniors. 

Many adults assisted are low-wage working parents and people with disabilities living on a fixed income. It has some full-time workers and a volunteer corps that help to keep operations running.

Brewster said that the center lost approximately $15,000 a month in revenue while the store was closed until about a week ago. Before the pandemic, nearly 300 people per week browsed around and often bought items.

She’s hoping to build those numbers again, but said that business is a bit slow.

According to Brewster, the center since mid-March has been busy focusing on its food programs and social services since schools closed and unemployment rose. Also, older volunteers who helped to keep the doors open chose to stay home to protect their health, though some now have started to return, she said.

In addition, long-overdue repairs to the building and the thrift store were made during this time. In addition, the center expanded space for clothing while eliminating the bulky furniture that once consumed much-needed floor area.

Piles of pants, dresses, coats, shoes, belts, purses, children’s wear, and shirts fill bins and any other place they could be piled in the backroom of the 1231 Kingstown Road store. Volunteers checked in the donations and marked them for sale.

Local shoppers looking for a brand name bargain might find labels of Michael Kors, Kate Spade and Calvin Klein.

Even a Cinderella tale has the potential to happen here as lone white wedding dress hung on a rack for the right bride in the right circumstances to step into it.

Local shopper Kira Schofield was thrilled for the reopening. “Jonnycake is a staple for this community. We really missed the store. It’s a great place to shop, it’s affordable and it really helps people out.”

Brewster added that the store allows for social distancing and all visitors must wear masks as do the staff and volunteers on duty.

Yet, this store is more than just a thrift shop in its small confines at the rotary in South Kingstown’s Peace Dale village.  It is a place where neighbors meet and regulars exchange gossip and news.  

Molly Perkins and Teasha Coppock, staff members, help run the store. “A lot of what goes on here is chatting, talking and catching up,” said Perkins.

For more than 40 years it has been an unlikely communications hub in town and that’s when this organization started helping people needing food and clothing.

The center is known best for its food pantry, which has distributed more than 300,000 pounds of food to those visiting for a pick-up as well as deliveries to the needy, home-bound seniors. It also runs a weekly school vacation meals and summer produce program.

When discussing the unexpected challenges the coronavirus posed, Brewster said the center earlier this year had to kick off its school-vacation meals program 11 weeks early with no preparation.

“We will have run this program more than twice as long as usual and served at least 50 percent more meals than in prior years,” she said.

“Next thing we knew Block Island native and immigrant workers needed help, and we took three trips to the Island with thousands of pounds of food to meet that need,” the director added.

In addition, the center operates a host of other programs intended to improve the economic security of households struggling to make ends meet.

These include motivational coaching to improve life skills, navigating education and employment pathways, community health outreach, emergency financial assistance, and free tax assistance.

“During the first weeks of the shut-down we were in the trenches with the school department trying to ensure everyone had access to the internet for distance learning and we know now many of our families truly struggled technically and emotionally with children trying to learn at home,” Brewster said.

The store is also open to the public Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from noon until 5 p.m.

Donations can be made Monday through Friday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. at the Kingstown Road location.

Brewster said they should be limited to gently used clothing and shoes; accessories including jewelry, handbags, scarves, ties, and hats; and artwork and decorative housewares.

Books, dishes, linens, and furniture cannot be accepted at this time, she said.

“We are fortunate to operate in a very generous community where individuals, businesses, and philanthropic families and organizations believe in a shared responsibility for helping others meet their basic needs,” Brewster said.

Bill Seymour is a freelance writer covering news and personality feature stories in Narragansett, North Kingstown and South Kingstown. He can be reached at independent.southcountylife@gmail.com.

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