January 27, 2021

New Pop-Up Shop in Hopewell Offers Art and More to Benefit HomeFront Clients

HELPING HANDS: “People can come and get something really nice for a very reasonable price, and all the funds go to HomeFront to benefit their clients.” Shown from left are volunteers and curators at the HomeFront Pop-Up Shop in Hopewell. Also pictured is Jim Baxter, owner of the building. Front row: Betty Smith, Anita Trullinger; Back row: Ruthann Traylor, Baxter, and Anne Battle.

By Jean Stratton

Hope and love are on display at the HomeFront Pop-Up Shop at 31 West Broad Street in Hopewell.

This is truly an example of looking out for others and helping them in times of need. Located in the storefront belonging to Jim Baxter of Baxter Construction, the new shop has a story to tell.

Since founding his company in 1981, Baxter has helped clients enjoy the comfort of their homes for nearly 40 years. He understands the importance of family and relationships, and how COVID-19, with its accompanying struggle and suffering, has intensified the focus of the home as a safe haven.

He was shocked when he watched a TV news broadcast before Thanksgiving, and saw a very long line of cars all waiting at a food pantry in northern New Jersey.

Almost Serpentine

“It was incredibly long and winding, really almost serpentine,” he recalls. “At first, I didn’t know what was happening, and then I realized they were there for food. One of the people interviewed said that they had never expected to be in such a situation. One father said he had lost his job, and the family needed food.”

Some people see a need and do nothing; others see a need, and don’t know what to do. Then, there are those who try to address the need.

The impact of seeing such difficulty, and especially during the Thanksgiving season, compelled Baxter to take action.

“I wanted to help somehow,” he explains, “and it happened that the first floor showroom of my building was going to be empty. It’s a double store front with lots of space, and I thought maybe in some way I could put it to use to help people.

“I discussed it with my colleague Elizabeth Wislar, and we talked about who could benefit from it. She had friends at HomeFront, and reached out to them. So we fixed up the space, put in some new lighting, and got it ready in about a week.”

It became a perfect match, and Baxter offered it to HomeFront free of charge.

Shelter and Skills

Since its founding in 1991, HomeFront has worked to end family homelessness in central New Jersey by breaking the cycle of poverty. Through the provision of shelter and skills for a self-sustaining life, it provides hope for those who often feel hopeless.

HomeFront has developed a sophisticated network of supportive housing and social services for very low income households who are either homeless or at high risk of becoming so. Recognized as a four-star charity by Charity Navigator, HomeFront ensures that 90 percent of every dollar raised is dedicated to programs that directly help clients.

“The work of HomeFront is multi-dimensional. We do much more than provide shelter,” explains founder and director Connie Mercer. “Our programs and activities are designed to help families experiencing homeless- ness gain skills for self-empowerment and develop a vision of a better future for them and their children.”

One of the ways HomeFront supports this transformation is through ArtSpace, the organization’s therapeutic art program. This is a special place where the creative process becomes a tool for self-expression, critical thinking, and problem-solving that can change the lives of the artists.

As the Pop-Up Shop moved forward, with a pre-Christmas December opening, it became not only a showcase for art, but also a resource for the public to find a variety of items at very reasonable prices.

“The majority of monies raised at the Pop-Up Shop going to HomeFront come from donated items from individuals,” explains HomeFront volunteer and curator Anne Battle. “A small percentage comes from artists whom we find throughout the country, who agree to participate in our art shows, along with emerging artists from our HomeFront’s ArtSpace program.”         

Community At Large

Customers will find a very inviting setting, filled with an eclectic variety of artwork, vintage and new items, including furniture, collectibles, small decorative pieces, dishes, bird houses, costume jewelry, scarves, and tote bags.

Attractively displayed, all the items have been donated by individuals.

“This is a wonderful way that the community at large can learn about HomeFront,” notes volunteer and curator Anita Trullinger. “I’m hoping that by coming here, someone might realize they have things in the attic they can donate, or they may be downsizing. And perhaps by coming here, and seeing what we are doing, they might become involved with HomeFront themselves.”

The art on display consists of original work by HomeFront artists, as well as that of professional artists in the area.

“The art has been very popular with customers,” reports HomeFront art director Ruthann Traylor. “Also, mid-century modern furniture has been a favorite of younger people, and really everything across the board has been very well-received.”

Among the furniture, chairs, tables, chests, and beds are available, as is a sofa. The colorful scarves and tote bags, created by the HomeFront artists, have also been in demand.

In addition to the items for sale, there is a section of food and supplies specifically designated as gifts for HomeFront clients. “Non-perishable food, such as canned goods of all kinds, cereal, pasta, etc. are needed,” says HomeFront volunteer and curator Betty Smith. “Personal hygiene items, including tooth brushes, toothpaste, soap, and diapers for all ages are all greatly needed.”

Highly Successful

“People have been very generous,” adds Battle, “and even if they don’t buy anything, we have a donation jar, where they can leave a monetary  gift.”

“Customers have been very supportive in many ways,” points out Traylor. “They are all ages, and are coming from all around the area, including Hopewell, Princeton, and Pennington. It has been highly successful, and has really exceeded our expectations.”

Because of the very reasonable prices — anywhere from $5 to $500 (for larger pieces of furniture), the items leave the shop very quickly. There are even small chairs for $10.

“Because of this, we really need the donations to keep coming in,” says Battle. “We appreciate it if people send us a photo of the item they wish to donate, or they can also stop by and show it to us. Of course, everything has to be in very good condition, and something we think will be popular with customers.”

With the virus still surging, the volunteers at the Pop-Up Shop are very careful about safety precautions regarding sanitation, safe distancing, and wearing of masks. Customers adhere to all the rules, as they enjoy browsing through the intriguing space, and nearly all leave with a purchase.

“The community has been incredibly supportive, and people really all seem to be very happy that we are here,” says Smith.

Valentine Hearts

The shop’s windows, with a variety of items on display, including groupings of suspended Valentine hearts, tempt customers to come inside. Also, the large outdoor sign, made and donated by Jim Baxter, is another handsome attraction.

In addition to the many items within, every Saturday outside the shop a representative from Sprouts, the mobile flower truck business, offers flowers for sale. A portion of the proceeds from the sales goes to HomeFront. “Being able to get flowers in winter is very appealing,” points out Trullinger.

“We are open Friday from 1 to 6 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4,” says Battle. “Our current plan is to be here through the last weekend in February, but we may stay even longer. The week of February 14 is very important to us, as it starts the week of Hope for HomeFront.”

As for Jim Baxter, who set all this in motion, he couldn’t be happier with the result.

“It feels good to help, and this was an opportunity to help. HomeFront is a wonderful organization, with wonderful people accomplishing so much good. When we started, we didn’t know just what to expect, but it has been a real success. I am very happy to be a part of it.”

For more information on the shop and HomeFront, visit the website at homefrontnj.org.