A New Pop-Up Store in Sonoma County Is Giving Back to Fire Victims in the Most Amazing Way Possible | 22 Words

The fires in Sonoma County have destroyed over 8,000 homes and other buildings, and that number is still rising even as the fires are contained. Over 100,000 people have been displaced, many having left their homes in the middle of the night with only the clothes on their backs. It's a desperate situation, and the sheer magnitude of lost stuff is staggering.

To help people get back some of the stuff they lost, a woman named Ariel Kelley stepped up and created the Healdsburg Free Store.

Kelley is a board member of Corazón Healdsburg, an area nonprofit with a large network, which she tapped for both volunteers and donations.

When they outgrew both a storage facility and a church, she contacted Bob Fraser at Foss Creek Partners, co-owner of a commercial park, about a vacant 14,000-square-foot warehouse. “It was a no-brainer for us because the space was empty," Fraser 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." So began the free store.

With local volunteers and an abundance of donations from near and far, the warehouse was transformed.

Kelley calls the space a "freetail" store. It carries everything from toiletries to new and gently used clothes to baby needs to everyday household items. “We hand them a shopping bag and we say, go shop, grab whatever you need," Kelley explains, "If there’s anything you didn’t find in the store, come write it down. Make your little wish list and we’ll call you later when we find it." They do their best to fulfill that wish list, too. Fire victims also receive a $100 gift card to supermarkets.

As long as she has volunteers and donated items, Kelley plans to keep the store open.

“It’s a small community with incredible people," says Kelley. With area kids out of school due to the fires, families have been coming in to help set up the store and organize the donations. For now, there's no shortage of volunteers, and certainly no shortage of donations. All of it is needed and appreciated.

People, both local and as far away as Europe, have been overwhelmingly generous.

While Kelley and her team are grateful for the outpouring of donations, they simply don't have the staff to handle people coming by and dropping off items at the store. Instead, Kelley keeps an updated online wishlist, and sets up donation times and locations for specific items. The store is currently running a drive for donations of new socks and underwear.

The Free Store is truly a blessing for the struggling community.

“The Free Store takes the abundance of our community and shares it with people in the darkest places right now," Kelley said. “By the grace of God, Healdsburg was spared the brunt of these fires. This is the least we can do to give back." The store opened last Monday, and grateful shoppers have steadily come through, replacing humble items like socks and toothpaste and picking up much-needed clothes and school supplies.

This free store is an incredible example of community support and generosity.

With so much lost in the fires, it feels good to know that people are out there doing their best to help. Hopefully, this pop-up free store idea will spread, and we'll see this type of thing happen again in other communities reeling from disaster. If you'd like to learn more about the Healdsburg Free Store, visit the Facebook page here. To see the registry-style wish list, where you can buy requested supplies to be delivered to victims, click here.