Spokane group provides makeup for low-income women

Every morning women all over the world start their day with a regular beauty routine. Special facial scrubs, rich moisturizers, a dab of lipstick, a swipe of mascara. It’s a regimen many take for granted.

But for women on a limited income, spending money on cosmetics is out of the question. That’s why last fall Julie Farley launched Project Beauty Share.

Farley, owner of the Make-Up Studio in downtown Spokane, offers makeup application classes at her business. She often advised clients to throw away makeup that wasn’t suited to them. But one client, Susan Smith, a longtime volunteer at Our Place Community Ministries, balked at the suggestion. “She said, ‘Oh, I could never do that!’ ” Farley recalled.

Smith told her for the working poor, products that Farley routinely tossed in the trash were like gold. “She said food stamps don’t cover personal hygiene products or makeup,” Farley recalled.

Farley said that was her “aha” moment. “I started gathering beauty products.” And Project Beauty Share was born.

She invited her customers to bring in new or gently used makeup, and product samples, as well as items like complimentary hotel soaps, shampoos and lotions. Farley then distributes the items to local charities like Our Place, Hope House and the Women’s Hearth. “We’re like a food bank for beauty products,” she said.

In October, she hosted a Beauty Bash to get the word out into the community. “Our goal was to fill 100 boxes, but we filled way more than that,” she said.

Soon businesses and salons around the area wanted to be a part of the project and offered to set out donation boxes. Farley said, “What better place than a beauty salon? Women visit those places every five to six weeks.”

Within a few months the donations began to overwhelm Farley’s business, so her landlord stepped in. “Paul Fruci donated space downstairs,” she said. Now, her team of volunteers has their own room to sort and sanitize the products. They fill donated cosmetic bags with everything a woman needs to feel beautiful.

Additionally, last Christmas they put together more than 300 gift bags and delivered them to local charities. “We’re going to double it next year,” Farley said.

Businesses like Victoria’s Secret, Northwest Beauty Salon and Glen Dow Academy regularly send her their overstock. This is important because some products, like mascara, must be new. Farley said, “Anything with a wand can’t be reused.”

For those wondering what to donate she offers this guideline: “If you’d give it to a good friend, then we’ll take it.”

Sunscreen and lotions are in especially high demand. “When you’re homeless, you need to protect your skin,” said Farley.

Project Beauty Share is making a difference in the community. At Our Place, Susan Smith said, “We see an average of 1,200 to 1,500 people a month. This is huge for us.”

She enjoys watching the women choose a new tube of lipstick. “They go out with smiles on their faces,” she said. “This enables them to have a whole different sense of themselves. It’s amazing to see that happening.”

In addition, she said the donation of basic items such as shampoo and toothpaste has enabled Our Place to expand their budget in other areas.

Likewise, Julie Ernest at Our Sister’s Closet called Project Beauty Share a huge boon to their program. She said Our Sister’s Closet helps prepare women to return to the workforce. “One of the most expensive things to buy is quality makeup,” she said.

Recently, products from Project Beauty Share went to participants in Transitions, a nonprofit program which helps women in crises gain self-sufficiency. “You should have heard the giggles,” Ernest said. “You put some new makeup on a woman and she feels like she’s ready to go. It’s pretty wonderful.”

Farley and her volunteers will soon begin teaching makeup classes through the YWCA. “It’s not just about giving away free stuff,” Farley said. “We want to help women get back into the workplace.”

She said the true heroes of the project are the women in the community who’ve responded to the need. Project Beauty Share has been adopted by book clubs and women’s groups throughout the area.

The venture is fulfilling for Farley on a personal level, as well. The project’s logo “The beauty is in the giving,” sums up her experience. She said, “I’ve always wanted to do volunteer work, but as a business owner I never had the time.”

She feels fortunate to have found a way to give back. “We are making a difference,” she said. “If I could do this full time, I’d do it in a heartbeat.”

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