A New Home for the Boutique
White Pony Express Takes the Boutique Under Its Wing
The SCA launched the Toy & Clothing Boutique in December 2008 as a way to help Saranap and Meher Schools families struggling to make ends meet during the “Great Recession.” Over the next five years, we gave away thousands of clothing items, books, toys, and games to hundreds of families at 16 Boutiques.
As the recession receded and the need for assistance in our area lessened, we extended the reach of the Boutique to families in other, less-affluent parts of Contra Costa County where the need is still great. (According to the Census Bureau, more than one in 10 Contra Costa residents lives below the poverty line.) We distributed flyers to churches, homeless shelters, and other entities that serve low-income families, inviting those they serve to attend.
Through 2012, attendance at the Boutiques averaged between 50 and 100. At the May 2013 event, the first one held after we began broadening our outreach, 25 families from outside the area whom we hadn’t seen before attended. In October, as our outreach efforts grew and word-of-mouth spread, the guest list swelled to 500. Then, in December, nearly 1,000 people attended our Holiday Boutique, with some families traveling from as far away as Richmond and Brentwood.
“Staging the Boutique entailed a tremendous amount of work,” says SCA Community Service Chair Stephanie Monson, who coordinated the Boutique from the beginning. “But seeing the gratitude in the faces of the people we served made it all worthwhile.”
Even in its original form, every Boutique involved dozens of volunteers working for hundreds of hours over a period of two or three months. Serving more guests meant a significant increase in the number of donations we needed—plus buying additional racks and bins for displaying and storing items, finding new storage and work space, printing and distributing more flyers, recruiting more volunteers, and spending more time preparing for each event.
“While we were pleased to be able to help so many people who were genuinely in need,” Stephanie says, “it became obvious that the SCA had neither the funds nor the volunteers to continue the Boutique in its expanded form, where it would do the most good.”
Learning of this, Dr. Carol Weyland Conner, who had originated the concept of the Boutique five years earlier, offered to take the Boutique under the wing of the White Pony Express. The White Pony Express picks up excess food from supermarkets, bakeries, farmers markets, restaurants, and other donors and delivers it at no cost to programs throughout the county that feed the poor. “In other words,” says Stephanie, “they work with many of the same organizations we had begun contacting and serve the same population we were attempting to reach.”
Inaugurated in 2013, the White Pony Express is a program of Sufism Reoriented. (Dr. Conner is the murshida, or spiritual director, of Sufism Reoriented.)
At its January 2014 meeting, the SCA board of directors voted unanimously to accept Dr. Conner’s offer.
“The SCA served as an incubator for a program that has a tremendous potential for making a real difference in people’s lives,” reflects Stephanie. “We can be proud of that. The White Pony Express has the resources to help it fulfill that potential. They’ll be picking up where we left off, building on the foundation we established.”
The SCA board at its January meeting thanked Stephanie for her dedication and leadership in work on the Boutique over the years.
White Pony Express volunteers are working on a plan to integrate the Boutique concept with the service it currently offers. Stephanie says she expects that neighborhood and Meher Schools families will still be invited to donate clothing and toys to the Boutique and to volunteer. And, as always, everyone with a need will be welcome to attend. “On the surface, I think it will look very much the same.” We’ll let you know when we learn more.
For its part, the SCA will continue to serve the Saranap through its Neighbors Helping Neighbors and Saranap Jobs Network program. The board is also discussing two other programs that it hopes to initiate within the year.
Other ideas are always welcome. Please contact one of our board members (see Contact Us) or join us at one of our monthly board meetings. We meet on the fourth Thursday of the month at 7:30 p.m. at Supervisor Anderson’s office in the Lafayette fire station, 3338 Mt. Diablo Boulevard.
Here’s a link to a Contra Costa Times article on the White Pony Express, published in early October 2013, two weeks after it made its first delivery.