by Joan Ray
The Coral Thrift Shop has been serving local residents since 1963, when seven local mothers wanted to make a difference in the community. These San Clemente moms were military wives whose husbands were deployed to Vietnam. They knew there were families who needed help and they wanted to be a positive force, soon learning that in those days a woman could not rent an office or even get a phone without a male co-signer.
Finally, under another group’s umbrella, they rented a small space on Avenida Del Mar. Then along came a benefactor, Robert Brooks, who was willing to let them rent a larger space on North El Camino Real, even arranging for a telephone. Robert also donated his time and expertise, repairing anything electronic and most other damaged donations for all these years.
Sandi Murray, who currently co-manages the store along with Carol Evans, said, “Robert and his family have made our success possible. With them and the help of our dedicated volunteers we have been open for over 52 years with amazing success and growth.”
To date the shop has donated almost three million dollars to South Orange County youth programs. In 2016 they gave twenty-six $2000 scholarships. They try to raise enough money to add one scholarship a year, making 2017’s total goal $54,000. They bought a van and hired a driver and lecturer for the “Oceans in Motions” program, which brings information and fun programs about the ocean and its inhabitants to elementary schools.
In addition, Coral Thrift Shop helps support the local YMCA annually, donating at least $20,000 to the local Boys and Girls Club. It also aids in funding after school tutoring programs and AVID, which trains educators in proven methods for preparing students, especially under-performers, for success in school and the workplace.
On its 40th anniversary the shop was recognized for their contributions by San Clemente’s leaders, the Governor and President Bush. More accolades were received on their 50th Anniversary. Judy Ferguson, president at the time, presided over the celebration, and Maggie Ezell was the speaker. Both women are still active.
Maggie set up Maggie’s Fabric Corner, with fabric and notions that elsewhere would be very expensive. Her husband, John, picks up and helps organize donations. Co-manager Sandi also heads the children’s clothing dept., not just caring for the clothes, but, because it is important for children to look nice at school, makes sure they are affordable. Some clothing, especially work clothes and T-shirts may even be free.
Coral Thrift is not your average thrift store. Many of their donations are high end, quality pieces. Expensive furniture, home décor, evening clothes and wedding dresses, jewelry, appliances, purses, shoes and other costly items are available for pennies on the dollar.
Volunteers say their work is rewarding, and many stay for 30 years or more. Lucille Forester, now 94, still cares for and beautifies all the dolls. Terry Jones, who has been a cashier for over 26 years, just turned 90.
“This is a happy place,” Sandi said. “It makes you feel so good when you see a child’s face light up when finding a special book or toy they’ve wanted. It’s even better to know you’re supporting organizations that will help many children.”
Despite this longevity, volunteers are still needed. If you can help, or help out, stop by the store or call (949) 492-2385.