Wrap the Kids building

The modest building in North Long Beach in which Wrap the Kids now operates. 

Wrap the Kids, the scrappy start-up nonprofit founded by a group of homeless people North Long Beach, is one step closer to its aim to provide handmade quilts to needy and sick children.

On May 1, Wrap the Kids founder Susanna Twaite posted a photo of her hands to Facebook. Dangling from her signature hot-pink nails was a ring of silver keys. The caption: got our keys.

Wrap the Kids keys

Susanna Twaite shows off the keys to Wrap the Kids' new building. 

But Twaite, who sleeps in her car each night, was not announcing new digs — the 57-year-old was holding the keys to Wrap the Kids headquarters.

After a profile of the group in the March 3 issue of the Gazette, people rallied behind the organization, Twaite said.

One person who got in touch was East Long Beach resident John Andrews, who consults on fundraising and grant writing. He decided to volunteer some of his time to help get Wrap the Kids off the ground.

“Small mom and pop type operations have so many disadvantages right out the starting gate,” Andrews said.

He said small nonprofits like Wrap the Kids compete for the same dollars as many national nonprofits.

“I just see it over and over again,” he said. “I see small nonprofits threatened more now than maybe any other time.”

The recession, he added, doesn’t help.

So Andrews helped Twaite identify some potential grant opportunities.

“I’ve just been throwing suggestions out to them,” he said. “We’ve made contact with (County) Supervisor Don Knabe, asking for a modest donation.”

In the meantime, Twaite worked on securing a building — something that would provide an address for correspondence and a place where she and other volunteers could make quilts.

The location, at 17 ½ Ellis St., provides four walls, a roof and electricity. A week after Twaite got the keys, she and fellow Wrap the Kids volunteer Leslie Henderson reflected on their experience.

The first step, Twaite said, was to come up with the $500 per month rent.

“I told him I could come up with the $500, and I didn’t know how I was gonna get it,” she said. “Some of the homeless donated their recyclables.”

It was a big sacrifice for her friends, many of whom use recycling as a major source of income, she said.

Then came a couple of donations from the community, and the first month’s rent was met.

Now, they just have to it again next month.

“We’re trying to think what we can do for fundraising,” Henderson said. “Maybe we’ll have a yard sale. We’ll figure something out.”

And Twaite said she has “probably got a good 20” quilts on order from friends and acquaintances. Those quilts, which she sells for about $100 apiece, could provide the seed money for the next month’s rent and to create quilts to give away, she said.

Andrews said he was impressed by the passion and resourcefulness of Wrap the Kids.

“Their intentions are very good,” he said.

But, he added, he is hoping to push them to think bigger.

“They need to tap into the channels of more traditional foundations and corporations.”

Wrap the Kids’ new space is already nearly full, with a plastic container of quilting fabric, one sewing machine, and the desk. They plan to squeeze in another sewing machine or two.

“We’re so excited,” Henderson said. “We’ve got a place where we can start working.”

“I call it the shack,” Twaite said. “It may not be a big step, but it’s something.”

She points to everything that confers legitimacy: the heavy wooden desk; the honors; the calendar filled with upcoming meetings and volunteer events.

“I’m just trying to do everything right,” she said.

Anderson said he’s never seen another nonprofit operated by people who are actively homeless. He said he would think Twaite’s first priority would be getting herself into a more stable situation — not sleeping in her car, running a nonprofit for which she isn’t paid.

“But her heart is pouring out, trying to help others,” he said.

Jennifer Rice Epstein can be reached at jriceepstein@gazettes.com

Jennifer Rice Epstein writes about business, environmental issues and K-12 education. Her essays and reporting also have appeared in The Morning News, Vice and LA Weekly, among others. She lives with her family in Bixby Knolls and tweets about Long Beach.

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