A Generous Heart – Local woman’s thrift store benefits young people and community alike

By Jeff Gardenour | September 26, 2007

When Cindy Cook saw two disheveled teens walking outside her store during Labor Day weekend, she offered to feed and clothe them and find them shelter.

“They were probably about 18 or 19 years old,” Cook said. “One had no shoes – well, it was actually a shoe that was falling apart – and the other had a backpack that was held together by paper clips. I could tell they were street kids.”

Cook said the teenagers were shocked and standoffish at first, but then welcomed her hospitality with undying gratitude. It was apparent to Cook that this act of kindness didn’t come their way too often. But for her, acts of kindness are a way of life, a way of reaching out to help the needy and those down on their luck.
“People don’t realize it, but it’s everywhere,” she said.

For years, it has been Cook’s mission to help the underprivileged from all walks of life, all over the world. If she has anything to say about it, there will someday be a lot less underprivileged people in the world.
Mexico, Jamaica and Haiti all have been graced by Cook’s presence. A member of Metro Church of Winter Springs, she has been on numerous missions, helping to build homes, organize schools and give clothes out to the destitute. No place is too far; no task too intimidating.

Cook feels the same way about The Vine, a non-profit thrift store in down town Oviedo that raises money for foster kids who have aged out of assistance programs. Her goal is to help young adults ages 18 to 25 find their way by offering a helping hand.

Through the success of The Vine, Cook recently opened the Shiloh Ranch Retreat in Geneva, where aged-out foster kids can stay and establish some goals for themselves. The Shiloh Ranch, previously known as “The Forgotten Ones,” sits on 10 acres of land in east Seminole County, a testament to what hard work and commitment can accomplish.

“Our mission is to help those kids,” she said.

The Shiloh Ranch became a reality after Cook opened The Vine four months ago. A widow with two grown children, Cook helped convert the 1,900-square-foot shop from a motorcycle-moped business into a successful thrift shop, where casual or habitual shoppers can find almost anything they need.

“It’s set up like a boutique,” Cook said. “We have clothes for women, men, teens. We have collectibles. We have furniture, beds. And, we keep our prices good and everything is clean.”

The Vine has been such a success that donations have poured in from all over. The store gets a mix of new and used items, things that would surprise most folks.

“I had one guy bring in a brand-new armoire,” she said. “I’ve gotten brand-new stuff from warehouses, even Ralph Lauren clothes with the tags still on them. And, the used clothes we get are in good shape; they’re not faded or anything. It’s amazing.”

Store items range in price from $1 to as much as $300. The Vine even has “Bag Day” sales where customers can buy a bag of merchandise for only $5.

The Vine also holds fundraisers and participates in The Charity Challenge, where nonprofit businesses sell tickets to assist the needy. “If we sell 50,000 tickets, for instance, we make 80 cents on the dollar and the sponsors match it,” Cook said.

When Cook isn’t busy with The Vine or setting up fundraisers, she serves as a guardian for children in court-appointed cases. She ended up adopting one 17-year-old boy whose father didn’t want him. Today, he lives on his own and works for an electric company in Orlando.

Cook currently is housing a family of three, hoping her kindness will help give the family some direction. “If everybody did one little thing and passed it on, we could do a lot,” she said.

A lot of people are benefiting from Cook’s generosity. The proof is in the deeds, as well as in The Vine in down town Oviedo.

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