(From left) Ellen Rubinchik, Jean Myers, Shirley Milenko, Harry Rubinchik, Carole Stein and Zdenka Levy in front of This and That (Photo/Rob Gloster)
(From left) Ellen Rubinchik, Jean Myers, Shirley Milenko, Harry Rubinchik, Carole Stein and Zdenka Levy in front of This and That (Photo/Rob Gloster)

At seniors’ shop, everything is under $2 and goes to underprivileged college-bound students

There are cookies and protein bars for sale, along with baby powder and toothbrushes. The handmade greeting cards are a big seller, along with chocolates and miniature bottles of wine. And nothing costs more than $2.

Seniors at the Moldaw Residences in Palo Alto can get a little bit of everything at the “This and That” shop located right next to the facility’s beauty parlor and operated by volunteers who live at the Moldaw, which is adjacent to the Oshman Family JCC.

Ellen Rubinchik, who with her husband, Harry, does all the shopping for the store, modeled This and That on a shop she saw when visiting her sister-in-law at the Vi, another Palo Alto retirement community.

“I said we should have something like that here,” she said. “It’s important because we have some people that don’t get out at all.”

Just as important as serving the Moldaw residents, whatever profit the shop makes — about $100 a week — goes directly to charity. Right now it’s supporting after-school tutoring programs at the Eastside College Preparatory School in East Palo Alto.

Ellen Lehman, development director at Eastside Prep, said the This and That donations help pay for stipends for faculty members who staff the school’s computer lab on evenings and Sundays.

Eastside Prep is an independent day and boarding school for students who will be the first in their family to go to college. All students at the school are on full scholarship.

“We’re very grateful for our partnership with the Moldaw seniors,” Lehman said. “We are putting their gifts to good use, and hope they feel that we are partners in providing this life-changing opportunity to first-generation students.”

The store celebrated its one-year anniversary earlier this month with a party, including baked goods and refreshments, and the volunteers who run the shop are plotting how to support other local nonprofits such as “10 Books a Home,” an East Palo Alto-based early childhood education nonprofit.

This and That is now open from 4 to 5 p.m. each Tuesday and Thursday, hoping to catch residents as they come down from their rooms on the way to dinner. The volunteers have discussed adding more days, or opening the store earlier, to give residents more opportunities to shop.

On a recent Tuesday, the store took in $49. Zdenka Levy collected the cash and Shirley Milenko entered all the sales — everything from shaving cream to Valentine’s Day cards — in a notebook.

The shop sometimes has “men only” days to entice more customers to stop by. Most of the regular shoppers are women.

“The men came down, they wanted the wine, they wanted the chocolates and the halva,” said Carole Stein, who helps run the store. “We decided we had to build the business. We’re still trying to figure out a way to get the men to come in, they’re hesitant shoppers.”

Stein was a child advocate in New York and a policy analyst in Indianapolis for former Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh before moving to the Bay Area. Ellen Rubinchik was a school secretary in Daly City. Harry Rubinchik, who owned a painting company in San Francisco, said doing the shopping for This and That has introduced him to many of his fellow Moldaw residents, who often give suggestions of what to buy.

“I think I have more friends now than I ever had,” he said. “It’s like a family environment here.”

The store sells lots of paper towels to the beauty salon, and earrings made by a Moldaw resident are a big draw. To Stein, the best part about the shop is that it helps the teens at Eastside Prep while providing a crucial service to the seniors.

“We take care of our own and we take care of the community,” she said. “This gives me purpose, it makes me feel very good that we can do this.”

Rob Gloster

Rob Gloster z"l was J.'s senior writer from 2016-2019.