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Give Kids Hope

Photo by Julianne Mosher

Local nonprofit Give Kids Hope Inc. is bringing a thrift store to Port Jefferson’s uptown.

Filling the vacant spot where Sue La La Couture previously was, the Give Kids Hope thrift store is a new endeavor that founder Melissa Paulson said will bring more resources to people struggling within the community. 

“Our previous location was very small,” she said. “This now gives us more flexibility with having programs for families or other free events.”

An inside look at the new Give Kids Hope thrift store in uptown Port Jefferson. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Now located at 1506 Main St., the front of the store will be a shop where people can find housewares, antiques, furniture and other trinkets. By selling items like these, Paulson said it will help keep the nonprofit’s overhead going, as well as provide funds for the food pantry in the back of the store. 

But that doesn’t stop the original mentality behind her organization. 

“Items like clothing, toys, shoes, essentials and pantry are always free to families in need,” she said. 

Give Kids Hope Inc. is a 501(c)(3) that Paulson started nearly a decade ago after her daughter was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma at just 18 months old. It was during this time that Paulson decided she wanted to devote her free time to charity. 

“I knew I wanted to do something to help other families in similar situations,” she previously told TBR News Media.

That’s when Give Kids Hope was born. Paulson created the nonprofit to help children and their families battling cancer, and as the years went on Paulson began seeing how many other people were in need around her. 

“There are so many less fortunate people in the community,” she said. “I never realized how many Long Islanders are struggling just to put food on their tables and a roof over their heads.”

She began gathering supplies she knew people would need, especially around the holidays, to donate to shelters, housing units and food pantries — and she was doing it out of her home for many of those years. 

Last year, she opened up her first brick-and-mortar location in Port Jefferson Station at 4390 Nesconset Highway. When that lease was up this summer, she said, she decided to move closer to the village where foot traffic and parking are better.

Right next to the thrift store is a parking lot with plenty of spaces, which Paulson said will help bring people in to browse.

“It will drive people here and allow them to shop, that way we can help more families in the area,” she said. 

Paulson said that because items in the thrift shop will be donated, the inventory will constantly change. 

 Photo by Julianne Mosher

“Everything that we’re collecting and selling ranges from antiques, collectibles, home decor — all the nonessential items that people don’t need, but more so want,” she said. “We have seasonal decor, vintage jewelry … we’re hoping to get more people to donate a variety of different things.”

She added that items will also be available for purchase on Facebook and easy pickup.

Paulson, a Port Jefferson resident, said that although the previous location was good for the time, she hopes that the larger space will allow her and her volunteers to host different events that will benefit locals — especially children.

“If the funding comes in, we’ll be more than happy to offer additional programs,” she said. “But as always, the pantry is a given and then our free ‘shopping’ events.”

Give Kids Hope has several events throughout the year where people in need can come to the location and browse and “shop” for things, like back-to-school supplies or holiday gifts. All the items are free.

She added that the nonprofit is looking for volunteers and grant writers. 

“The key thing is to keep our doors open, so if anybody has items to donate, we encourage them to get involved,” she said. “I encourage people to come down and get to know us, to see who we serve and also be a part of making the change. It’s a really wonderful thing and I’m so happy to be a part of it.”

Paulson said that if anyone or a family are struggling in the local community to reach out to Give Kids Hope.

The thrift store is currently open Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. Hours may change and donations are accepted at the store during these times. 

Photo from Melissa Paulson

A local mom, nonprofit founder and small business owner is looking to run for Village of Port Jefferson’s mayor seat.

Melissa Paulson, a Port Jefferson village resident since 2014, and owner of the online-only antique store, Melissa’s Cottage and Consignments, said she decided to go against incumbent Mayor Margot Garant because she believes the village needs a change.

A graduate of Hauppauge High School, she moved on to study special education and early education at Dowling College. While there, she worked for the America Reads program providing tutoring services to local children.

Paulson said after getting married and starting her family, she chose to move to the village because she had fond memories of it growing up.

“Coming here as a child and seeing how beautiful it is, but then now, I see the decline,” she said. “It’s very disheartening to see what has transpired. I specifically came here to raise my family, because the ambiance and historical history, and now we’re faced with vacancy, homelessness, acts of violence and safety concerns. So, it’s really time for leadership to really implement changes positively and effectively.”

Prior to her settling down in the village, Paulson’s daughter was diagnosed with cancer at just 18 months. It was then that the mayoral candidate decided to start up a nonprofit, Give Kids Hope Inc., in 2011 where she claims she has helped over 14,000 underprivileged families throughout the last year. 

Give Kids Hope is now located in Port Jefferson Station, after finding a permanent home at 4390 Nesconset Highway last year.

Paulson said her charity work led her to consider a run for mayor over the last couple of years, when she believed the current administration wasn’t fixing the problems she saw. 

“The proposed changes that were set to happen years ago unfortunately haven’t and after being here for so long, I realized it’s time for change,” she said. “I’m not a politician. I’m not a lawyer. I’m Melissa Paulson — I run a charity, but I want to be the voice for people and that’s what people need.”

She said she believes the village needs someone who’s “going to fight for them.”

“I will fight for what’s right,” she added. “I will listen to the voices of our residents, businesses and owners, even schools.  We all need to work together to really make positive changes.”

Some of those changes she is looking to work toward are making the village a safer place, and stopping its commercialization.

“It was a historical village, and now it’s being commercialized by big apartment buildings, and people want that to stop,” she said. 

Paulson said she wants to hold business owners in Upper Port more accountable for graffiti by issuing fines, and to bring businesses back to Down Port. She plans to address homelessness and raise police presence throughout the village. 

Although the village has created a task force to keep an eye on troublesome bicyclists, while also increasing its constable presence on the streets, Paulson said she would like to see more.

“We need police watching our residents. We need more jurisdiction of constables,” she said. “We need to begin finding ways to allow them to have more duties to protect our village more.”

Despite a random and unfortunate incident where a man was killed on Main Street in March, a recent report at the village board of trustees meeting stated that Port Jefferson’s crime rate has been on the decline.

Paulson acknowledged that, but she still sees concerns over the teenage bicyclists who have harassed visitors and residents in the past.

“I’ll feel safer if I see police officers walking around the village,” she said.

One concern that village residents noted when Paulson announced her candidacy was the fact that her two children are part of the Three Village school district.

“I don’t have a choice to attend Port Jefferson schools,” she said.

The village vote is scheduled for June 15.

“Every day I’m working hard to become your mayor,” she said. “This is more than an election, it’s my passion and mission to be the voice of the residents.”

Keep checking back with TBR News Media for more updates on the upcoming village election.

Melissa Paulson outside her new location. Photo by Julianne Mosher

COVID-19 has been tough on nonprofits,  but that isn’t stopping Melissa Paulson from helping others. 

Give Kids Hope Inc. is a 501c3 that Paulson started up nine years ago, after her daughter was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma at just 18 months old. 

Paulson, who is a stay-at-home mom, decided to devote all of her free time to charity. 

“I knew I wanted to do something to help other families in similar situations,” she said.

That’s when Give Kids Hope was born. Paulson created the nonprofit to help children and their families battling cancer.

But as the years went on, Paulson began seeing how many other people were in need around her. 

“There are so many less fortunate people in the community,” she said. “I never realized how many Long Islanders are struggling just to put food on their tables and a roof over their heads.”

An inside look at Give Kids Hope’s food pantry in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Julianne Mosher

She began gathering supplies she knew people would need, especially around the holidays, to donate to shelters, housing units and food pantries — and she was doing it out of her home for many of those years. 

“I put a plea out and a generous donor gave me $5,000 dollars to open a center up,” she said. “It’s a facility so people can come and ‘shop’ completely free.”

The brick and mortar location opened up on July 1 and have so far helped nearly 7,000 families across Long Island, Paulson said. 

She added that people who need a helping hand will find her group on Facebook, through local churches and by word of mouth. 

“We get a lot of walk ins,” she said. “Sadly, it’s homeless people asking for clothing.

And she said the community has been “so responsive” to her cause, but she could use more help to reach out to more people.

“I think if people knew what we did then more people would get involved,” she said.

Compared to other similar nonprofits, 100% of everything they get goes directly back to the charity.  

Also, rather than a typical food pantry that gives canned goods and nonperishables, Paulson said her little “shop” stores perishable groceries one might need like milk, eggs, bread and juices.

And because of the COVID-19 crisis, she said she has been easier than ever. 

“We’ve been swamped because of the pandemic,” she said. “Whatever comes in goes back out.”

To meet that need, on Feb. 7, Give Kids Hope will be hosting a “Free Shopping Day and Pantry Day” to help people who might need a little extra help. 

Give Kids Hope’s hours. Photo by Julianne Mosher

So far, Paulson said, there are 700 families registered to receive clothes, toys and food. Registration is ongoing, or people can drive up to the parking lot that day to quickly grab what they need. The event will be held from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. 

“I’m in the community,” she said. “This is my home and it’s so important for me to help other people.”

The Feb. 7 event will be Paulson’s first “shopping day” since the pandemic. She plans on doing them at least once a month.

Give Kids Hope’s shop is located at 4390 Nesconset Highway in Port Jefferson Station and is open six days a week. 

“If there are families in need, they can reach out for us,” Paulson said. “We don’t judge and there are no questions asked.”

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Families are able to pick up essentials at Give Kids Hope, located on Nesconset Highway in Port Jeff Station. Photo by Courtney Rehfeldt

By Courtney Rehfeldt 

As many Long Islanders face financial hardship and food insecurity, struggling to make ends meet, Melissa Paulson, of Port Jefferson, is helping communities in need.

Donations for a back-to-school drive hosted at Give Kids Hope in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Courtney Rehfeldt

A yellow wreath adorns the door to the Port Jefferson Station outreach center Give Kids Hope that Paulson recently opened along Nesconset Highway. Families who come to the center can pick up free food and other items, including toiletries and even toys or clothes. 

“It has been truly sad to see the amount of people who struggle with providing everyday basic needs for their family,” Paulson said. 

Eight years ago, Paulson initially started Give Kids Hope as a nonprofit to support children fighting cancer before pivoting towards helping the general public. 

“I started Give Kids Hope after my daughter was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma,” she said. “Having been faced with such a tragedy, I knew that my only hope was prayer and the hospital staff around us. The simple things, such as a toy gifted to my daughter through the worst time, cheered her up. I wanted to be that person to help other children going through the same thing.” 

Unfortunately, Paulson faced yet another challenge when her husband lost his job. Just as before, Paulson’s own challenging experience inspired her to help others in the same position. 

“After my husband lost his job for 16 months, we were faced with the same situation of families who are struggling,” the outreach center owner said. “Luckily, we had our savings account and family to help us through that time. I learned that even working people can lose everything so easily without any notice or warning. We are grateful to have had the option to come back from that situation. However, most families don’t have the support from others or other things to keep them afloat. I wanted to be that person that others can lean on during their crisis.” 

Paulson noted that the pandemic and subsequent job losses on Long Island has created a massive demand for food and daily essentials. She reported that Give Kids Hope assists 15 to 30 families a week with food items, and some weeks that number is even higher, averaging 40 to 60 families. 

“We have seen every type of hard situation that is imaginable,” she said. 

Even before the pandemic, Paulson said many Long Island families were already struggling and that the need for future assistance can occur at any time. 

“I feel the community isn’t aware of how many families are truly in need of basic essentials and living needs,” Paulson said. “Even for a working family who hits a crisis, it becomes a downward spiral of effects. There isn’t enough assistance out there that allows families to receive what they truly need. Some people don’t qualify for government assistance due to a few dollars over the allowed limit. Our goal is to provide assistance and support to them through their time of need.” 

Before opening the Give Kids Hope location in Port Jefferson Station, Paulson ran the operation out of her home. 

“We had a very generous donor who donated $5,000 to get us started,” she said. “We were limited with space and ability when doing it in my home. Now we can open 4-5 days a week for pantry items and other types of assistance.” 

Paulson emphasized that it has been challenging to raise funds, and notes that Give Kids Hope relies on the community’s support to keep it flourishing. 

“Our center is 100% free to others in need,” the Port Jeff resident said. “Since we opened, we have helped 662 families with clothes, toys, and food assistance. A lot of families are walk-ins that don’t have a computer. Our center has been a huge asset to the community and has grown tremendously. We have held free shopping events, back-to-school supplies drives, and we are currently working on a Halloween costume drive, Thanksgiving, and our big toy drive for Christmas.”

Paulson also added that the center is looking for volunteers and takes food and item donations. 

Give Kids Hope is located at 4390 Nesconset Highway in Port Jefferson Station. They can be contacted online by searching Give Kids Hope on Facebook or by calling 631-538-5287.