ON HER annual kayaking trip to Mexico a few years ago, Joy Engstrom was traveling down a road with a truckload of donated goods she had received from fellow Rotarians. She stopped to talk to a man on foot. In her broken Spanish, Joy asked if he had any kids, and his response was yes, a 4-year-old. Knowing she had something for the child, she ran to her truck and pulled out a pink bike with streamers on the handlebars. As the man crossed the street with the bike, a young boy came running toward him with the biggest smile and looked at the bike with curiosity and awe. Thinking to herself that a boy in the United States would never accept a pink bike, Joy was amazed at how little gestures can go so far.
Giving away the bike and other charitable deeds are what led to Elefante Blanco, an organization that Engstrom opened in March “to help those in need both locally and internationally and to provide funding to help support the humanitarian projects,” according to the shop’s mission statement, which she often restates. Elefante Blanco (White Elephant) is a thrift boutique at 1343 The Alameda, San Jose. Engstrom calls it a “thrift boutique” instead of a “thrift store,” because she hopes to create a higher-end assortment of clothes and gifts—at thrift-shop prices.
With the help of store manager Tiffany Hanmore and about a dozen volunteers, Engstrom keeps the store running, sorting through the donations that come in each day and getting them on the racks. After dropping off donations, many people stay to shop. All proceeds go straight to benefit the projects Elefante Blanco sponsors. Engstrom is a Rotarian, and she and her friends are working to help a school in Zimbabwe, Africa, as well as provide clothing and educational materials to children in Mexico.
When people ask her where the name for the store came from, Engstrom explains, “Most people I know have ‘white elephants’ all around their homes. Things they don’t use or need [but] things that would be so valuable to someone else.” Random acts of kindness are what keep Joy going. “I do it because it is needed,” she says. “Seeing someone somewhere that needs something” is all the motivation Engstrom needs to help those who less fortunate, and she hopes that others will be inspired to do the same. It only takes one little boy’s smile to know you have done something worthwhile.”
1343 The Alameda, San Jose