By Jennifer Wheeler, Executive Director, Leadership Seacoast

Jen WheelerThe Leadership Seacoast Class of 2014 volunteered at the Wonderland Thrift Shop in Stratham earlier this month as part of the United Way Day of Caring. It was the first project in their graduation commitment to their communities. Wonderland Executive Director Lisa Pearson reported that the group unpacked and sorted 50 bags of clothing in the store today, helping transition the clothing department from summer to fall.

This group’s project provided enormous benefit to Wonderland, a non-profit organization that Pearson manages with 10 part-time employees. The organization operates out of the shop in Stratham on Portsmouth Avenue across from Market Basket, which is open to the public and features clothing, furniture, home furnishings, antiques, baby supplies, glass wear and more. But Wonderland is much more than a thrift shop.

100 percent of Wonderland profits go directly to individuals and families in need in New Hampshire. In 2013 the organization helped families with rent, electricity, gas, food, fuel, clothing, furniture, new baby items, and financial aid. The organization helps families in need, particularly those in transition, and has assisted more than 2,000 families since its founding. According to a recent study conducted by the NH Department of Health and Human Services, there were 4,732 homeless people received shelter and services last year. Not long ago Pearson learned of a family that was struggling financially and sleeping on the floor in their new apartment. Using funds raised at the store, Pearson and her staff coordinated a surprise delivery of beds for the entire family.

The Leadership Seacoast Day of Caring at Wonderland was fulfilling for both the shop and the volunteers. Class of 2014 member Sarah Grazier, who organized and led the group and the day’s effort and who is a member of the Regional Council of the United Way of the Greater Seacoast, said that is a typical scenario on any Day of Caring. She explained the volunteers typically feel a sense of great accomplishment and said that for this group, it was a great way to reconnect as a class.

My personal biggest takeaway from the Day of Caring was the reality that there are so many silent leaders working tirelessly to make the community a better place. I had no idea that this nonprofit organization, which is right in my backyard, was filling such a significant need in MY community, for our neighbors.

Pearson, an energetic and motivated woman who, in addition to working many hours a week at Wonderland, also runs a family business, founded the nonprofit because she felt there was far too much excess in our culture, with far too many people in need. The prices at the shop are purposely kept low to simplify operations and keep customers coming back. Baby clothing starts at just .50 cents. Kids at $1.00 and adult/teen at $2.

Wonderland has a wide network of supporters, including local companies and groups of volunteers of all ages. The organization could not operate without the help of these volunteers and the support of local businesses. Volunteer drop-in night is held each Tuesday from 5 – 7 p.m. The store accepts donations during business hours. Off hours, donations are accepted in the blue boxes located at Lindy’s, Exeter Packaging, Mexico Lindo and Hannafords in Exeter.

For more information visit www.wonderlandthrift.org, email info@wonderlandthrift.org or call 603-686-5313.