By Cheryl Conway
A vacated plan to open a second thrift store may have dimmed its hope for a brighter future, but the battered women’s shelter organization still hangs on to survive.
Strengthen Our Sisters (SOS), a non-profit program serving homeless/battered women and children for more than four decades, had planned to open up a second thrift store in Passaic as early as January this past year. The store, Treasures Two, was going to feature furniture and clothing sales, with proceeds to cover the mortgage and utility costs incurred in operating a seven-facility shelter.
Plans to open the store at 919 Main Ave. in Passaic were stalled when the landlord was told he needed to provide a fire suppression system. In the meantime SOS was paying for storage space for months to house furniture and clothing received from generous donators.
When the date to open the store was pushed to March, then April, SOS decided it could not wait any longer for the space to be available as they were losing too much money to rent the storage space.
“That store won’t be ready for months,” says Sandra Ramos of Ringwood, founder and executive director of SOS.
Edee Galzan, volunteer administrative director of SOS says “SOS was losing money in storage and we couldn’t afford it.”
To make matters worse, when SOS announced it had to pull out, the store’s landlord did not refund SOS all of its money owed to them.
“He didn’t give us back all our money,” says Ramos. “He owes us $4,000. We paid three and a half months rent, security deposit.”
When SOS stopped paying the rent for the storage space, it soon lost all of its beautiful donations, says Ramos.
“It’s a gimmick,” says Ramos. The monthly storage rent had increased from $30 to $300. “We got really nice stuff,” and now it is gone.
“Wonderful merchandise over $7,000,” says Galzan. “We lost it. We had to let it go. We signed something; if you are not able to pay, they are allowed to sell it.”
With one step forward and two steps back, SOS continues its appeal for monetary donations, volunteers and necessary items to keep the shelters open.
With restricted monies coming in, the organization has been in jeopardy of closing its doors to hundreds of women and children.
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 as early as 1970. 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.
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 limited money from sources such as the Passaic County Dept. of Human Services and private donations. Ramos currently has 17 non-paid volunteers who drive shelter residents to look for jobs and attend court, doctor appointments, social services, schools; and run the thrift store and day care centers.
SOS is currently down to seven facilities located in Newfoundland, Wanaque and West Milford, providing shelter to 150 women and children, with more calling every day.
Relying on monetary support and understanding lenders has paved the way toward SOS’s shaky survival.
One Livingston business person- who had given SOS $35,000 to support the second thrift store and help pay for the shelter’s utility fees- issued another $9,000 to SOS for its troubles.
Ramos also managed to get the shelter’s mortgage reduced from $800K to $499K.
“Edee’s very organized; we are paying all our bills and trying to hold on,” says Ramos. “She’s organizing the one store.”
“We do have a truck now,” says Ramos, to pick up donations.
Money is needed for storage of any furniture donations, as well as money for gas to put in the truck.
Ramos had been counting on $30,000 from a United Way grant but that was denied when SOS didn’t have its audit completed in time, she says.
“Keeping seven shelters running is no joke,” says Ramos. SOS is $73,000 behind in the monies owed to PSEG and operating costs. Losing the second thrift store, “This really set us back.
“We are still accruing bills,” says Ramos. “They are allowing us to stay open; they see we are making an effort. They could have cut us off a long time ago.”
While donations are appreciated, Galzan says SOS needs to reorganize its one thrift store for more space before accepting any furniture or large items.
Financial donations to help pay for the mortgage and utilities is SOS’s greatest need, as well as volunteers to drive the residents to appointments, work at the store and shelters and landscape the properties.
Other immediate items include large black contractor garbage bags, toilet paper, cleaning products, non-perishable food, fresh fruits and vegetables, beds, a power lawn mower and weed whacker.
Donations can be sent to P.O. Box 1089, Hewitt, N.J., 07421; or call 973-831-6156. Those willing to donate can also go to gofundme.com/strengthenoursisters.
Another option is to visit SOS’s thrift store, Treasures, at 196 Lincoln Ave., West Milford. In existence for 30 years, Treasures is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call the store at 862-248-9935 for more information.
For more information on SOS go to www.strengthenoursisters.org.