The newest store in Healdsburg is open to everyone but is geared toward victims of last week’s horrific fires. Everything there is free.

Fittingly, the exchange is known as the Healdsburg Free Store, and the “freetail” shop is the byproduct of an overwhelmingly supportive local effort to help those who need it most. Since the place opened Monday morning, it has distributed tens of thousands of items, from strollers and toys to jackets, flashlights, and more.

All of the items in the store have been donated, and “shoppers” are invited to take whatever they need. Visitors who have lost their homes also receive $100 in gift cards to local stores such as Wal-Mart and Trader Joe’s.

“The Free Store takes the abundance of our community and shares it with people in the darkest places right now,” said Ariel Kelley, board chair of Corazon Healdsburg and the driving force behind the endeavor. “By the grace of God, Healdsburg was spared the brunt of these fires. This is the least we can do to give back.”

The Free Store came together organically over the course of last week.

One day after the Tubbs Fire tore through the Fountaingrove and Coffey Park neighborhoods of Santa Rosa, Kelley and her colleagues at Corazon set up a donation drop-off point in front of Empire Mini Storage on Grove Street. They received multiple truckloads of donations, and gave out goods for a few days at the Healdsburg Community Church.

This past weekend, however, the effort needed to find a new home. City Councilman Joe Naujokas suggested Kelley call Bob Fraser at Foss Creek Partners to ask about a vacant 14,000-square-foot warehouse space in The Point at Foss Creek building just north of the post office.

She did, and within moments of explaining the situation, Fraser was on board. “It was a no-brainer for us because the space was empty,” he said. “For the people who lost everything, this is going to be a long recovery process, and we wanted to do whatever we could to help.”

The effects of that help were on full display earlier this week. A steady stream of humanity came through the front door, perusing bins of new and gently used clothes, examining barely worn shoes, and checking boxes for diaper sizes. Everyone who entered was asked to register for federal aid through a website named DisasterAssistance.gov. The mood was quiet but hopeful. Shoppers seemed grateful for the opportunity to stock up on new supplies.

Balbina Altamirano certainly was appreciative of the opportunity. It had been nearly a week since the Rincon Valley resident and her two children evacuated their home, and she desperately needed some new outfits.

“We need clothes and food,” she said in Spanish. “I’m [happy] these things are being provided.”

The Free Store will continue to provide must-need items, as well; for now, the plan is to keep the exchange open at least through until the end of the month. Kelley said the facility is not equipped to be a donation drop-off point, but noted the Free Store does have a registry-style wish list where people can purchase specific items in need.

The Healdsburg Free Store is located at 190 Foss Creek Circle, Unit K. It is open from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. daily.



How to get involved

Now that the Healdsburg Free Store is up and running, there are three ways for interested parties to get involved:

Volunteer. Corazon Healdsburg is managing sign-ups for people interested in volunteering at the store. Sign up at https://signup.com/client/invitation2/secure/2074724/false#/invitation.

Donate. At this point the Free Store is not accepting unsolicited donations but it is maintaining a wish list of things people can buy. The list is online at http://gooddler.com/Wishlist/10157.

Shop. If you know a family that has been displaced or lost everything as a result of these fires, consider shopping for or with them, just to be there.

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