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Volunteer Lisa Oliver Waldinger, one of the three women who helped bring the Malibu Recovery Project to Malibu Country Mart, sorts through donated goods on Nov. 28. The space provides new and gently used clothing and more to Malibu fire victims. Photos by Suzy Demeter/22nd Century Media
Malibu Recovery Project founders (left to right) Tracy Park, Catherine Malcolm Brickman and Lisa Oliver Waldinger gather for a photo in the Malibu Recovery Project space.
Bruce Silverstein sorts donated clothing items on Nov. 28, the third day of operation for the free store in Malibu Country Mart.
Clothing items, all of which are free to fire victims, have been donated by various businesses and individuals.
Catherine Malcolm Brickman, one of the three women responsible for bringing the Malibu Recovery Project to Malibu, brings donations into the store. The project is modeled after a prototype in Montecito by Berna Kieler.
Lauren Coughlin, Editor
7:45 am PST December 4, 2018

A once-vacant space at Malibu Country Mart is now anything but hollow.

After just three days of operation, Tracy Park, Catherine Malcolm Brickman and Lisa Oliver Waldinger — the women at the helm of the newly created Malibu Recovery Project free shop — had already seen a full transformation of the space above Toy Crazy. The volunteers watched as the shop filled with mounds and mounds of donated clothing, footwear, toiletries, towels and linens from near and far, and they watched as Malibu fire victims lined up, reluctantly but gratefully accepting items to help them get by. Above all, the women have witnessed what Park describes as “little, sweet miracles.”

On Nov. 26, the first day the shop was open, actress/model Brooke Burke and her children donated dozens of boxes of Sketchers shoes.  

While the charitable crew was walking up to the shop, Park overheard a sweet exchange: “Brooke’s little girl said to this little girl, ‘Would you like to try on a pair of shoes?’” 

The young girl obliged, taking the first box in sight and opening them to find a pair of shoes she had recently admired in a store, but could not find in her size.

It’s the small moments like these, and the smiles that the moments bring, that keep the volunteers going.

“The love is so overwhelming,” Park said. “It’s so remarkable.”

Indeed, many of the customers are visibly crestfallen, and material goods are not all they seek. At Malibu Recovery Project, the volunteers also aim to ensure that shoppers find something imperative: hope. 

To that end, Malcolm Brickman recalled one woman who was glad to find sheets for her son’s bed until she realized one problem: He no longer had a bed. The woman was ready to put the sheets back, but Malcolm Brickman interfered.

“I said ‘But he will have a bed, and that’s why you need these sheets, and here’s the pillows that go with it,’” Malcolm Brickman said. “She said, ‘You’re right.’” 

The shop also serves as a hub of information, as some of its own volunteers are among those who lost their homes. 

“These are really good people, and they’re trying to help other people that have been affected,” Malcolm Brickman said.

Above all, the volunteers encourage anyone who has not already done so to visit the disaster assistance center at the Malibu courthouse, and some volunteers have even walked them over. 

“We’re such a small community that we do know [how the victims feel],” Park said. “These are our friends who are affected so what’s amazing, what’s sweet is when you see a familiar face and you know you’re all going through the same thing. You know you’re surrounded by people who actually know how you feel.”

The space also plans to create a private section of the store where it can host counselors from nearby Roots and Wings. 

Just as the tireless volunteers at the shop, Roots and Wings Founder Jennifer Johnston-Jones said her business is looking to give back to its community.

“Even those who didn’t lose their homes are still suffering from the fear that was invoked and the loss of what Malibu was,” she wrote in an email to the Surfside News. “Also, there is the psychological response of what such a traumatic occurrence brings up. Often, prior trauma can become triggered.”

The store is modeled after the Montecito Recovery Project Free Shop, founded this past March by Berna Kieler following the Thomas Fire, Montecito flash floods and mudslides. 

Currently, the Malibu shop is expected to remain open through Dec. 31, and volunteers and donations are welcome. 

The organizers are seeking more volunteers, with a goal of staffing four to five volunteers per shift. Typical hours would be from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Anyone interested in volunteering is asked to come to the store.

To allow the existing volunteers time to catch up, donation drop-offs are requested from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. on Mondays and Fridays only.  

Donors to date have included Montecito Girl Scout Troop 50415, Sharon Segal, Anine Bing and more. 

“We’ve been overwhelmed with the generosity of the community,” Malcolm Brickman said.

The volunteers ask that large household goods, such as furniture, are not brought to the store; they encourage donors to advertise such goods on the social network Nextdoor. 

New items are coming in often, and any Malibuites in need are encouraged to visit and to return. 

How to help

• The Malibu Recovery Project is seeking volunteers of all ages, with a need for availability from roughly 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Duties will include cleaning, hanging clothes and more. Anyone interested in volunteering is asked to come in to the store.

• Donations of gently used or new clothing and footwear may be dropped off between 11 a.m.-5 p.m. on Mondays and Fridays. The store is unable to accept large items such as furniture. 

Visiting the shop

What: Donated clothing, footwear, toiletries and more are available free of charge to Malibu fire victims at this volunteer-run space, which is scheduled to remain open through Dec. 31. Patrons are asked to bring identification. 

Where: Malibu Country Mart, 23410 Civic Center Way, above Toy Crazy

When: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily through Dec. 31 (with the exception of Christmas Day, when the shop will be closed)