In July 2015, The Harvester talked to Debra Allen, wife of FFVA Vice Chairman Paul Allen of R.C. Hatton, about a very special project. It’s called Light House Café, and a very special part of Light House Café is Ella’s Closet.
Paul Allen and three others in the Everglades began Light House Café in the 1990s as a way to bring sustenance and spiritual aid to less fortunate area residents. With the help of volunteers, the café provides a hearty meal to all comers, as well as prayers and assistance with coordinating resources such as addiction assistance and Social Security.
Last year, Ella’s Closet was established to memorialize the short life of Ella, the infant daughter of an area family who passed away. Debra Allen and others put together a corner of the café decorated in pink and white where they provided clothing for young children. They set up a program where parents could earn “Ella bucks” by taking classes and participating in programs designed to help with child-raising skills. The Ella bucks are then used to purchase items.
Since then, Ella’s Café’s offerings have greatly expanded with assistance from volunteers, grants and the community.
“This month we have about three classes a week,” said Allen. “On Tuesdays we have a parenting class, which is provided by Youth Services of Palm Beach. They usually do a five- to six-week class. On Wednesdays, we hold two different Bible study get-togethers, and then on Thursdays we have what’s called Healthy Relations – kind of a chit-chat class. A psychologist comes and talks to the women to see if they’re having any relationship problems, including domestic abuse. The Bible study and the chit-chat are ongoing. And then we hold a six-week class hosted by Boys Town.”
In addition, Allen said, one of the sisters from Glades Initiative taught a six-week class called Cooking Matters, showing women how to cook healthy food on a budget. “The great part of that was that when they left that day, they got to take all the ingredients with them so they could make the same thing at home,” she said.
Allen says that although they’re not the only organization in the area that provides goods and assistance for new parents in need, they may be the most comprehensive.
“We try to provide everything in one place,” said Allen. At the beginning we only offered clothing, but now we have food, formula, diapers, wipes, bathtubs, bassinets, high chairs — you name it. Some of the other places may only provide diapers and clothes. We try to cover it all.”
And that takes money. Allen is grateful for all the financial support the organization has received. A big financial boost came from “A Day for Ella,” a community effort last September that raised $20,000. They also won $1,000 in a contest sponsored by Youth for America, a nationwide youth group, which was used to expand the closet, and received some donated round racks and shelving at the same time. “It’s really looking like a retail store now,” she said.
“We also teamed up with the founder of the website Clothed4aPurpose.com. They offer cute clothes and home items, essential oils, etc. The site sells these items for other people. A percentage of the purchase price goes to one of the charities listed on the site or you can choose a charity that meets their standards. We’re listed there and we’ve received a nice amount of funding from it,” Allen said.
Ella’s Closet and Light House Cafe also signed up for smile.amazon.com. “Everybody buys from Amazon. But if you go to the Smile website and use your same log-in info, you can donate a portion of your purchase price to a charity,” Allen said. “Ours is under ‘Light House Café Ministry of the Glades.’ Granted, we only get a small amount per purchase, but it’s more than we had the day before!”
Another new development is a fun and profitable one – learning how to make jewelry and sell it. The founder of Clothes4apurpose and a friend who owns an art studio are teaching the moms to make bracelets and necklaces. “The point is not necessarily to make money for Ella’s Closet; it’s to eventually teach them a skill. When the moms master the art of jewelry making, we can set them up an Etsy account to sell their handmade jewelry and start their own business. The jewelry also will be sold on Clothes4apurpose.com,” Allen said.
Allen said the group also plans to offer sewing classes. A teacher has been lined up, so once they get the sewing machines, they’ll be off and running.
To donate, items may be dropped off at the Community United Methodist Church in Belle Glade, 401 S.E. 1st St., from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., or at Light House Café, 400 S.W. Ave. B Place, Belle Glade, from 7 a.m. till noon. You may also donate via the above links to Ella’s Closet website or its Facebook page.