When Rozanne Esparza opens the front door of the Rescued Treasures thrift store in downtown Forest City, she is opening her heart to animals as she has done since she was 14 years old.
The retired paralegal who moved here six and half years ago read a book about slaughterhouses at 14 and became a vegetarian and is now vegan, giving up all dairy and other animal products out of her love for animals.
The well-appointed, stylish thrift store features bargains on clothes, jewelry, books, and other treasures rescued for the work of funding Heart Of The Foothills Animal Shelter, which is now in its new home at 380 Highway 221 North near Rutherfordton.
"I love animals," she said from behind a mask that prevents transmission of the Covid19 virus.
"She's wonderful," Heart of The Foothills Director Karen Parker said of Esparza. "She has done an amazing job with the thrift store. Sales are up even with the pandemic."
Some of the income from the store goes to support animal rescue at Heart of The Foothills. Other income goes to pay Esparza for 20 hours a week. "I get paid for 20 and then usually donate an additional 40 hours."
She is the only paid staff. All other work in the store is done by volunteers. Among them is her sister, Dolly Balliro. Her sister only works in the store during hours when it is not open to the public because of concerns around Covid19.
"There's always sorting, hanging, pricing, always plenty of work for volunteers," Esparza said. Persons wishing to volunteer can call 828-229-3065. Several volunteers have come back since the store reopened.
Esparza also volunteers with Pets Are Worth Saving, an organization that hopes to bring no-kill sheltering for animals to Rutherford County. She has trapped, had spayed and neutered a colony of 21 feral cats which lived near her home.
Parker says she does her work with Heart Of The Foothills because, "I couldn't stand the thought of so many animals getting euthanized at the local shelter in an overcrowded system. It's much better than it was years ago, but we still need to do more."
Beyond the care and feeding of stray animals, heartofthefoothills.org is a website that can be used to find pets for adoption and it is used by people all over the country. Parker and her allies have formed a transport network that serves hopeful pet owners nationally.
"We've got a little dog going up to New Hampshire in the next few days," she said. "A lady found her on our website and fell in love with her."
The most important word to both these women and their allies is, "heart." They have hearts for these animals and a keen interest in their wellbeing. Check them out at heartofthefoothills.org.