Kevin Riordan: Couple who fought to recover reach out to others

Terry and Kim Miller of West Deptford manage Hope Thrift in Somerdale, which supports Bill and Brenda Antinores' Seeds of Hope. "The Christmas decorations have been flying off the shelves, along with sneakers and mattresses," Kim Miller said.
Terry and Kim Miller of West Deptford manage Hope Thrift in Somerdale, which supports Bill and Brenda Antinores' Seeds of Hope. "The Christmas decorations have been flying off the shelves, along with sneakers and mattresses," Kim Miller said. (KEVIN RIORDAN / Staff)
Posted: December 20, 2011

No sooner do Bill and Brenda Antinore park their dark-blue van near Broadway and Ferry than one woman, and then another, walks over to the West Deptford couple.

It's barely 30 degrees and not yet 10 a.m., but this sad little strip of South Camden already is alive with people in trouble. And they know the Antinores will at the very least offer them a prayer.

"Hi, girlfriend," says Brenda, as the first woman accepts a hug and a bag of toiletries. She gives her name as Eva, her age as 47; the Antinores know her as well as she knows them.

"They're good church people, and they always help me out," Eva says. "They do it straight from the heart."

Bill and Brenda call their ministry Seeds of Hope.

They started about a dozen years ago with a counseling service for ex-prisoners reentering the community; gradually expanded to include outreach to prostitutes and others on the street; and on Nov. 12 opened a store called Hope Thrift in Somerdale.

Married for 20 years, the parents of six and the grandparents of four, the Antinores are not ordained. But they do know something about redemption: Only after they found Jesus in 1995 could they escape from the addiction that had destroyed their careers and almost killed them both.

So now they take alcoholics and addicts to detox and serve hot meals to homeless people. Brenda's "She Has a Name" program focuses on helping prostitutes (most of whom are addicts) get clean and find God. Recently, the program helped one young woman from New England return home.

Bill, a former lawyer, did time himself, and now their "South Jersey Aftercare" program provides housing and other services for ex-cons. And the couple can be found most Saturday mornings serving breakfast at Fellowship House on Broadway.

Their work is supported by a dozen South Jersey churches of various denominations, as well as donations.

"We don't take any government money," Brenda, 51, says.

"We're two people who should be below ground," the onetime high school health teacher adds. "And we're going up. How crazy is that?"

Crazy in a good way, I think as I visit Hope Thrift store later that morning.

"Welcome," Kim Miller says from behind the counter of the former beauty salon on the White Horse Pike. "We call this a thrift boutique."

Customers are everywhere.

"The Christmas decorations have been flying off the shelves, along with sneakers and mattresses," Kim, 54, says.

She's the donations manager. Her husband, Terry, who's 64 and retired from Veterans Affairs, helps out, as does the Millers' newly married daughter, Jaimie Bonds, 23.

Terry and Kim, who also live in West Deptford, have known the Antinores for nearly a decade. They started out collecting, organizing, and distributing clothing to support Seeds of Hope and have expanded that "clothing ministry" into the store.

Ruth Keppel, 74, of Somerdale, is on her fourth visit: "I like the experience of when you walk in. It's well taken care of. And of course, the people here are my brothers and sisters in Christ."

Bill, who served 15 months in federal prison and was disbarred after his conviction for theft of government funds in 1998, says customers also like knowing that the store supports a good cause.

"They know it's going right back to the street," he says.

"If people donate clothing, it's going right on somebody. We're not storing it somewhere," Brenda says.

The couple say they located the store outside Camden to promote their ministry to a wider audience.

Which it certainly does: A flat-screen monitor near the front door shows a video about Seeds of Hope, and photos of its programs in Camden decorate a front window.

Noting that many of those they help are neither addicts nor criminals, but simply poor, Bill says, "We're called to help people in trouble."

They haven't forgotten the help they received.

"When Bill and I were going through the worst time in our lives, and everyone was moving away from us, a person who lived next door moved toward us," Brenda says.

"Now we can touch people with real, tangible help. And hope."


Kevin Riordan:

To view video of the work being done by Seeds of Hope, go to

www.philly.com/hopethrift


Contact staff writer Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845, kriordan@phillynews.com, or @inqkriordan on Twitter. Read the metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at http://www.philly.com/blinq.

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