Norco thrift store fuels outreach efforts for homeless 

Before moving to Louisiana over a decade ago, Sharon Varona was a case manager working to help the homeless of Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles.

Once that move happened, Varona wanted to find a new outlet to help others like she had before. And as her efforts grew and grew, it led her to where she is today: on Apple Street in Norco, where this month saw the grand opening of her non-profit A Christian Touch Community Outreach Thrift Store. Sales from the store go toward purchasing daily necessities for people in need, such as clothing, food and hygiene products. All proceeds are donated back into the community.

So far, she says the community has embraced the new store. 

“It’s kind of miraculous to me,” said Varona. “This has just been a blessing and it’s been great to meet so many new people as they come and go.”

Varona previously opened a thrift shop in Metairie, but as the scope of the outreach efforts she and her family were doing grew larger, so did the need for space in the store. Varona’s husband works at Shell and came across a site for lease on Apple Street – conversations were had, agreements were made and the store’s new location came to be. 

The origin of the store began when Varona and her family moved from California.

“I found myself with nothing to do. So, me, my daughter and my son kind of got started touring the streets and learning New Orleans,” said Varona. 

As they did that, Varona learned there was a great need for help for so many who have found themselves homeless. 

“We go out under the bridge. We feed, we clothe, sometimes we bring breakfast out there, water … we would knock on doors asking for donations of old jackets to be able to give to the homeless when it got cold,” Varona said. 

They progressed to also visiting nursing facilities to help out, be it bringing magazines for residents to read, simply visiting and providing anything else that could provide a lift. 

“We found a lot of people there did not have families to see them,” said Varona. “So we began going there every evening.”

Varona began making special gift baskets for sale to raise money for her family’s outreach efforts.

Beyond any donations received, the gift basket proceeds served as the primary source of funding for the effort. Eventually, those would be sold at her previous site in Metairie, where people also began asking about buying other things that might be included in some of the baskets, separately. 

“Things like books, bibles, that I’d have as part of the baskets. So, we got a bit bigger,” said Varona. “We started picking up more things people might like, and as we got bigger and bigger, we needed a bigger space.”

Her desire to help has only grown. Varona’s son Javon passed away a year-and-a-half ago, and she said that the help she and her family provide others is part of his legacy. 

“He would have loved the thrift store and to see what we’re doing now,” Varona said. “It’s made me even more determined to push, because this is for him, too.”


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