By Cheryl Conway
The new year is looking bright for a battered women’s shelter organization thanks to a significant donation from a Livingston business person who responded to an SOS call.
This donor, and his wife, who wish to remain anonymous recently allocated $35,000 to Strengthen Our Sisters (SOS), a grassroots, community based non-profit, program serving homeless/battered women and children for more than four decades. The funds went toward the shelter’s utility fees and to open a thrift store in Passaic.
With restricted monies coming in, the organization has been in jeopardy of closing its doors to hundreds of women and children. While constant funding is needed to keep the non-profit running, the most recent donation has allowed SOS to sustain its operations for now and to cover the first three months’ rent of a new thrift store, Treasures Two, expected to open March 1 on Chestnut Street and Main Street, near Popeyes, in Passaic.
“We’re struggling,” says Sandra Ramos of Ringwood, founder and executive director of SOS. “We are not in to money; we don’t get paid. I haven’t been paid in four years. We don’t give the money to ourselves. We give money to serve the people. We do it out of love. We want to make the world a better place.”
Established in 1977 as Shelter Our Sisters – Ramos began the first shelter for battered women in North America out of her three bedroom home in Hackensack. The organization changed its name to Strengthen Our Sisters and grew as big as eight houses, two day care centers, a food pantry and a thrift store.
“Our shelter is the largest,” says Ramos, currently providing 155 beds to persons needing shelter. “We have 177 beds available. We take people that we don’t get reimbursed from welfare.”
The mission of SOS is to break the cycle of domestic violence, poverty and abuse by restoring balance and harmony through individual empowerment.
To support her organization, Ramos receives some money from the Passaic County Dept. of Human Services, private donations, counties and social services. Ramos currently has 17 non-paid volunteers who drive shelter residents to look for jobs and attend court, doctor appointments, social services, schools; they fix things, watch children.
“We have people working who have no pay, no insurance,” says Ramos, who had to reduce her non-paid staff and is currently down to seven shelter houses located in Newfoundland, Wanaque and West Milford.
A teacher of social issues and dynamics of domestic violence at Ramapo College, Ramos has been reaching out to the community for monetary support to keep her organization afloat.
One man from Livingston read about her cry in the local “Livingston News,” and decided to take a closer look.
“I’ve been thinking about a worthwhile organization to support,” he says. Rather than giving his money away to “get thrown in a big pot and you don’t know where it goes,” he chose SOS. “They are out of sight, out of mind.” Despite its financial woes, “they continue to supply services with their extreme limited amount of money.”
He “thought it was a floundering, worthwhile organization. I called to get name of attorney to find out if they are a legitimate organization; then traveled to visit her” to see the shelters, day care centers, thrift store and food pantry. He met “a bunch of people,” young and old, and talked to them “hearing how they struggled and got strengthened getting back into society and back into their lives.
“What a youthful, helpful organization it is; thought it was worthwhile to support,” he says. “It just kind of reinforced there’s a need for this; reinforced there are many people in need of support in places to live, for food. They’ve gone through tremendous financial strains.”
The donor also supports the organization’s purpose: to help women “to reestablish a life after gone through a poor circumstance, such as battered women, mentally, physically.”
While he says “I’m not a zillionaire,” he says he did have some success in his profession which has now allowed him and his wife to give back.
“I’ve spoken to Sandra a half a dozen times,” he says, to learn “what their needs are. They say they get a lot of donations. They need the store but they need an ongoing business to regenerate the business to self-sustain, to pay the people working there. They have to generate a good chunk of revenue plus some revenue to pay some people to run the store.”
Of the funds he allocated, $10,000 went to pay shut off utility fees for gas and electric at the shelter’s seven houses; and $20,000 as a reverse matching fund to cover the first three months’ rent at the new thrift store, explains Ramos.
“We are supposed to match it,” says Ramos. “We have constant needs. We need refrigerators,” gasoline, insurance.
Treasures Two is set to open March 1. The brand new store features a showroom with a store downstairs, an elevator and wood floor, describes Ramos. Customers will be able to shop for new and used furniture, high end designer clothing for mostly women, children and some selections for men.
“We get a lot of stuff,” says Ramos, as far as donations. “We get some really good stuff; got a feathered couch,” antiques.
The store will be open six days a week from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The organization’s other thrift store, Treasures, opened 30 years ago and is located in West Milford.
As she looks forward, Ramos hopes to add in a Jazz Café at the new store and eventually a Treasures Three featuring “gardening stuff.”
Ramos is currently in need of furniture, cars, quality clothing and monetary contributions.
For more details, go to https://www.strengthenoursisters.org/.
To make a donation or to help, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Ramos at 973-831-6156.