Intrepid Stores, new chain of thrift shops in Sonoma County, emerges from implosion of Crossing the Jordan

Maddie Evans picked through the donated clothes at the Intrepid Stores thrift shop in east Santa Rosa, deciding which items could be sold and which should be thrown away.

The job has been a lifeline for Evans, 26, who is currently homeless and does not have a car. Both could be insurmountable hurdles to getting and holding down a job at many companies in Sonoma County.

But as an employee with Intrepid Stores, she gets clothes, a paycheck and a ride to work when she needs it. Some days she and other staff are picked up in a company van. Other times, Intrepid Stores will send a ride-share car to collect Evans wherever she’s found a place to sleep for the night.

Maddie Evans, 26, who is currently homeless and working full-time at the Fourth Street location of Intrepid Stores in Santa Rosa, California on Saturday, January 23, 2021. She spends much of her shift organizing mountains of donated clothes, pricing items and handling the cash register.  Maddie has saved about half the amount of money necessary to move into an apartment and hopeful to find one soon.(Photo: Erik Castro/for The Press Democrat)
Maddie Evans, 26, who is currently homeless and working full-time at the Fourth Street location of Intrepid Stores in Santa Rosa, California on Saturday, January 23, 2021. She spends much of her shift organizing mountains of donated clothes, pricing items and handling the cash register. Maddie has saved about half the amount of money necessary to move into an apartment and hopeful to find one soon.(Photo: Erik Castro/for The Press Democrat)

“Most places would have turned me down,” said Evans, who returned to Sonoma County in December with no job or place to live. “I was really, really grateful for them hiring me. They knew my situation, and they were very very accommodating. They hired me right then and there on the spot.”

Intrepid Stores is the new name for four storefronts in Santa Rosa once operated by Crossing the Jordan Foundation, a now-defunct organization with thrift shops and halfway houses that became embroiled in legal battles with Sonoma County last year when its founders, Dana and Michael Bryant, refused to obey pandemic business closures aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19. Multiple cases of the disease were linked to their facilities.

Julie Puccini, right, president of Intrepid Stores, joins Vice President Monique Slayback at their offices in Santa Rosa, California, on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. "Maddie called me crying when she received her first check saying, 'I didn't think it would be this much,’" said Puccini. Maddie Evans works full time at one of their stores and is currently homeless. (Erik Castro / For The Press Democrat)
Julie Puccini, right, president of Intrepid Stores, joins Vice President Monique Slayback at their offices in Santa Rosa, California, on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. "Maddie called me crying when she received her first check saying, 'I didn't think it would be this much,’" said Puccini. Maddie Evans works full time at one of their stores and is currently homeless. (Erik Castro / For The Press Democrat)

The current owners, Julie Puccini and her partner Monique Slayback, are both former residents of Crossing the Jordan programs. They say they are creating a new nonprofit with the best parts of the former owners’ philosophies and leaving behind the rest. Puccini said they are still focused on helping the same kinds of people who sought refuge at Crossing the Jordan’s self-improvement programs but they have streamlined their goals to focus on giving people job experience and training.

“Our mission is a little different,” Puccini said. “Our mission is to hire people that maybe nowhere else would hire.”

Their stores, which sell donated and consignment items, currently employ 21 people and aim to provide job experience and training for others who might find it hard to get hired elsewhere. Puccini said she and her partners did not take over Crossing the Jordan’s residential programs in Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park, but they are developing plans to open a home for women and their children who need shelter.

She said Evans is precisely the kind of person they want to help: people who are caught in the Catch-22 of not being able to secure housing without a paycheck but who can’t get a job without a home.

“I was really, really grateful for them hiring me. They knew my situation and they were very very accommodating. They hired me right then and there on the spot.” -Maddie Evans

Puccini said they try to help combat the financial burdens that build up when people struggle with addictions, homelessness, poverty and criminal convictions. They’ve paid off DUI fines to help people restore their driver’s licenses — a financial hurdle that can force people to make risky decisions, like driving with a suspended license to get to work.

The stores have become many people’s first jobs after years of addiction, incarceration and adversity. Many of their employees require hands-on training on how to dress and behave in a professional atmosphere.

Maddie Evans, 26, left, helping a customer make some purchases at the Fourth Street location of Intrepid Stores in Santa Rosa, California on Saturday, January 23, 2021. Maddie is currently homeless and working full-time at this store.(Photo: Erik Castro/for The Press Democrat)
Maddie Evans, 26, left, helping a customer make some purchases at the Fourth Street location of Intrepid Stores in Santa Rosa, California on Saturday, January 23, 2021. Maddie is currently homeless and working full-time at this store.(Photo: Erik Castro/for The Press Democrat)

“I can’t really think of anything we would not do to help someone be successful,” Puccini said. “I’ve helped people do their resumes. I’ve mentored them through a lot of drama.”

Puccini said she’s also working on ideas for how to provide jobs for people coming out of prison to help them reenter society.

Intrepid Stores is an organization of fresh starts shedding the baggage of the Bryants, who moved to Florida last year and closed their residential shelters after their organization became the site of a major outbreak of COVID-19. Public health workers eventually linked 38 cases of the coronavirus to Crossing the Jordan residents and staff, among the largest outbreaks of the virus in Sonoma County in the first four months of the pandemic, according to county officials.

Maddie Evans, 26, right, helping customer Judy Ramirez make some purchases with her dog Kodachrome at the Fourth Street location of Intrepid Stores in Santa Rosa, California on Saturday, January 23, 2021. Maddie is currently homeless and working full-time at this store.(Photo: Erik Castro/for The Press Democrat)
Maddie Evans, 26, right, helping customer Judy Ramirez make some purchases with her dog Kodachrome at the Fourth Street location of Intrepid Stores in Santa Rosa, California on Saturday, January 23, 2021. Maddie is currently homeless and working full-time at this store.(Photo: Erik Castro/for The Press Democrat)

In May, Michael Bryant was repeatedly cited by the Santa Rosa Police Department over a nine-day span for keeping Crossing the Jordan thrift stores open in violation of Sonoma County’s stay-home order. An attorney for the Bryants said their nonprofit was facing financial ruin and decided to reopen the stores, which support residential programs they created to help people recover from homelessness, addictions, criminal convictions and other challenges.

The Bryants filed a federal complaint May 13 challenging local and state health orders, questioning the constitutionality of pandemic emergency rules and asserting their rights to be free from unreasonable seizures and fines or cruel and unusual punishments.

The county filed a lawsuit against the Bryants on June 18 in Sonoma County Superior Court, asking the judge to order the Bryants and their organization to help public health workers track down staff and residents who had contracted or been exposed to COVID-19. The county’s case concluded Oct. 1 when Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Jennifer Dollard issued an order forbidding the Bryants and Crossing the Jordan “from operating any business in Sonoma County.”

Store Manager Carlos Naredo, 40, working at the Fourth Street location of Intrepid Stores in Santa Rosa, California on Saturday, January 23, 2021.(Photo: Erik Castro/for The Press Democrat)
Store Manager Carlos Naredo, 40, working at the Fourth Street location of Intrepid Stores in Santa Rosa, California on Saturday, January 23, 2021.(Photo: Erik Castro/for The Press Democrat)

Three weeks later, the Bryants agreed to dismiss their federal lawsuit against the county and the state, court filings show.

Sonoma County Chief Deputy District Attorney Brian Staebell said his office is still evaluating whether to file charges against Michael Bryant, even though Bryant has left the state. The two dozen misdemeanor citations for violating the health order carry a maximum of $24,000 in fines and six years in jail.

The Bryants pulled up stakes for Florida midsummer, leaving behind the California nonprofit they founded in 2011, which grew to include thrift stores, residential programs, a moving company and wedding planning business.

Maddie Evans, 26, who is currently homeless, working full time at the Fourth Street location of Intrepid Stores in Santa Rosa, California, on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. (Erik Castro / For The Press Democrat)
Maddie Evans, 26, who is currently homeless, working full time at the Fourth Street location of Intrepid Stores in Santa Rosa, California, on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. (Erik Castro / For The Press Democrat)

In December, Dana Bryant wrote a social media post about “government overreach” and the “unforeseen relocation of my family from our home in California to Florida. The tragic loss of our social enterprise that took decades to build.”

By then, Crossing the Jordan signs had been down for five months, replaced by the shield logo for Intrepid Stores, which was incorporated as a nonprofit in July.

The Bryants’ wedding planning business remains in dispute with some of their former clients, who said the Bryants took substantial deposits and other payments but were unable to host their weddings during the pandemic. Two clients said the Bryants have been unwilling to negotiate a compromise.

In an email statement, Dana Bryant said two clients broke their contracts and declined “reasonable offers” by her to settle the matter. Intrepid Stores had “nothing to do” with contracts signed by Crossing the Jordan, she said.

“I intend to resolve every one of these contracts, where appropriate, and finally get this mess behind us,” Bryant said.

Puccini said she contacted the county to ensure her new organization would follow all county rules for operating during the pandemic. They instituted testing regimes for staff, sanitizing stations, temperature checks and other safety measures to ensure they were operating under best practices and following county rules.

Maddie Evans, 26, right, taking the temperature of a customer at the Fourth Street location of Intrepid Stores in Santa Rosa, California, on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. Maddie is currently homeless and works full time at the store. (Erik Castro / For The Press Democrat)
Maddie Evans, 26, right, taking the temperature of a customer at the Fourth Street location of Intrepid Stores in Santa Rosa, California, on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. Maddie is currently homeless and works full time at the store. (Erik Castro / For The Press Democrat)

“Michael and Dana have blessed me in my life, but their interactions with the county taught me something, so I wanted to do it differently,” Puccini said.

Puccini said that about four years ago she had “a screaming heroin addiction,” was stuck in an abusive relationship and using a wheelchair when she arrived at Crossing the Jordan straight out of jail.

“What’s wrong with these people?” she recalls wondering. “They’re so happy.”

Over time, the Bryants and others in the program ultimately helped Puccini embrace sobriety and forgive herself for the things she did or were done to her in her darkest moments.

Store Manager Carlos Naredo, 40, accepts donations from Beverly Stemach of Kenwood at the Fourth Street location of Intrepid Stores in Santa Rosa, California, on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. (Erik Castro / For The Press Democrat)
Store Manager Carlos Naredo, 40, accepts donations from Beverly Stemach of Kenwood at the Fourth Street location of Intrepid Stores in Santa Rosa, California, on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. (Erik Castro / For The Press Democrat)

Their tactics were controversial to some, life changing for others.

Former residents described endurance swims at Lake Sonoma or from Alcatraz Island to shore, frigid and frightening endeavors.

The new name — Intrepid — is a nod to a concept about courage used by the Bryants, Puccini said.

“I’ve seen people who come in here, bottom of the barrel, mothers who were getting loaded with their children. What society would look at and think, ’It doesn’t get lower than that,’” Puccini said. “Now, they have their children back and are living these fruitful lives. That’s what it was about. Nothing is impossible. Anything you want you can have.”

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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