Benton Thrift Store Provides "Helping Hands"

BENTON, Ark. - More than a decade ago, a local thrift store opened its doors.

But its owner had a bigger idea than simply making a dollar or two on some gently-used items.

She wanted to make an impact on people who had made some bad choices, including her own son.

"That's basically what this place is. It's like one big yard sale, you know?," says Bonnie Johnson of her Benton thrift store Helping Hands & Caring Hearts.

From lamps to movies to clothes to dinner plates, this store has a lot, including a mission that goes beyond each sale.

"I see a bunch of stuff in here that will accumulate dollars and nickels and dimes that will go towards helping other people," she adds.

Bonnie has a big passion for giving back.

"We try to help everybody," she continues.

Over the last 13 years, she has given away clothes, shoes, and furniture to folks who need them. But her heart is with people who've made a big mistake. The majority of her employees are in drug court, on parole, or have been in prison.

"One of the requirements with them is they have to have a job. Most people aren't going to be very understanding when they say, 'I've gotta go take a drug test.' That's not going to happen. But that's one of the things we do here. I understand they HAVE to leave, I understand they have to be at meetings, I understand," says Bonnie.

It's an understanding that started with her son.

"In '93 I caught a murder charge. I was acquitted of my murder charge and went down on lesser charges," James Gross explains.

He's spent a lot of time behind bars, but with a renewed faith and a strong mother, James is changing.

"Statistically, I shouldn't be here. You know what I'm saying? I should be incarcerated. I should be doing a life sentence. That's how I know. I know, God has got something for me," he continues.

"He's my success story, I've seen it," says his mom.

Bonnie's thrift store is offering more than a discount. It's offering solutions.

"They said I couldn't do it, but 13 years in April says I can," she adds.

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