Much More than a Store It’s a Story
Written by Wanda Kelsey-Mendez
I pulled a beautiful jacket out of the box and smiled. I remember when Mom and I went shopping and she tried this on. She looked great, but she thought it was too expensive. Growing up in the Depression meant that almost anything not handmade was too expensive. I told her that she deserved a splurge and she could wear it to church. So, she reluctantly bought it.
A couple weeks later, Mom called and the excitement in her voice was palpable. “I wore ‘The Jacket’ to my appointment today and a young man in the elevator smiled at me and told me I looked really nice today!” she giggled. She was giddy with delight.
I put the jacket gently to the side and continued into the final storage bin, looking for an old wooden box. There it was, nestled under some doilies well past their prime. None of the grandkids or great grandkids wanted the treasures residing here. I had opened it so many times, but each time tearfully closed it and decided to try again another time.
As a child, this box was mysterious, full of memories, stories, and sentiments. Mom would draw out a broken locket and tell its story, then dig in the box for a few beads that reminded her of a special party. Finally, the tiny blue bottle marked “April in Paris” – now empty, but still smelling exotic and romantic – the first gift my father had ever given her. What do you do with the tattered memories of a long life?
I believed I had finally found the answer. I had already donated much of Mom’s wardrobe to Story Boutique, in gratitude for the gentle care provided by Kansas City Hospice. But I had just learned about Jewelry for Hospice, a volunteer program that combined outdated or broken jewelry with donated beads and supplies to create new and unique designs. Instead of throwing out Mom’s memories, they could be repurposed and used to create new memories for someone else.
Story Boutique is located in the Ranchmart Shopping Center in Leawood. Overflowing with donated clothing for women and men, jewelry, art, home decor, and other treasures, it provides a charitable way to recycle, reuse, and repurpose, while offering bargains to shoppers, and supporting the mission of Kansas City Hospice & Palliative Care.
I love the name, Story Boutique. It reminds me that StoryB is much more than a store. It reflects the experience of the many volunteers who help staff the boutique. When a family brings in a donation, it is usually accompanied by a story of how Kansas City Hospice cared for their friend or loved one. Each pre-loved treasure brings a story of joy, and each donor, a story of remembrance. Each volunteer shares a story of connection. Each shopper helps create a new story for families in our community.
The boutique was founded over twenty years ago by volunteers who wished to help raise money to support Kansas City Hospice in caring for the area’s families. But what began as an altruistic thought soon evolved into so much more.
StoryB became a special place to shop. Designer brands and classic styles received a second chance and shoppers became connected with the mission of the little store. It was a fun place to shop, and you could feel good about where your money would go. Plus, everybody loves a bargain! Over time, bargain hunters were joined by environmentally conscious consumers. Did you know textiles make up 5% of all landfills in the US? Only 15% of unwanted clothing is actually recycled and the average US citizen throws away an estimated 70 lbs. worth of textile waste annually.
The volunteers became the soul of the shop. They found a wonderful place to meet new people while supporting a cause close to their heart. The camaraderie was contagious, and the volunteers were astonished at the stories they heard. There were tearful tributes to loved ones interspersed with tales of compassionate hospice care. Each day brought new stories of love and loss, of gratitude and hope.
The donors found a place to give a second life to cherished items while showing their support to the nurses, aides, social workers, chaplains, therapists, and physicians who gave so much comfort to their families. They became aware that Kansas City Hospice provides care regardless of a family’s ability to pay. By donating, they would help ensure other families would receive the expert care they experienced.
One of the many benefits of hospice care is that families receive grief support up to thirteen months following a death. This may include individual or family counseling, and there are numerous support groups and workshops available. Grief support specialists at Kansas City Hospice have offered a three-part seminar Sorting Through to help people take care of a loved one’s possessions after a death, making a possibly overwhelming task into a healing experience.
The pandemic was not kind to retailers of any kind, and StoryB is no exception. As part of the complete update to Ranchmart Shopping Center, they prepared to move around the corner into a brand-new space behind O’Neill’s Restaurant in the Spring of 2020. The pandemic coincided almost perfectly, placing the volunteers on hiatus and plans on hold.
Three years later, StoryB is open and thriving in its new location. If you’ve a mind to share your story as a shopper, a donor, or a volunteer, maybe I’ll see you there. I may be ready to part with a really special
Local artist Eugenia Ortiz created a mural for the grand opening of Story Boutique.
“I was inspired to donate to Kansas City Hospice because I felt an inner calling. My Intention Murals have transformative side effects. I felt that many people would find inner peace and comfort after the loss of a loved one through the energy that is embedded in my art work,” Ortiz said.