Business & Real Estate

Gitane boutique hosts fundraiser for PRERNA refugee organization

Elizabeth Barcelos/Town Crier
PRERNA volunteers welcomed shoppers to their trunk sale fundraiser, co-hosted by Gitane Freedom of Style boutique in downtown Los Altos. Supporters include, from left, Farah Al Saka, Shreyani Shah, Karen Mecker and Dharini Hiremagalur.

With the idea that the season of giving shouldn’t apply just to friends and family, Gitane Freedom of Style boutique on State Street in downtown Los Altos hosted a holiday trunk show fundraiser Nov. 9 for the refugee support organization PRERNA.

In addition to offering shoppers 15 percent off their purchases, Gitane donated 20 percent of the evening’s sales to the nonprofit agency.

Entrepreneur gives back

Meena Sankaran, founder and executive director of PRERNA, launched the all-volunteer venture to help refugees relocating to the area every step of the way, from finding housing to accessing health care, education and employment assistance. The group also offers refugee families mentoring and cultural assimilation programs to ease integration into their new communities.

“Giving back to the community wasn’t just a thing to do – it’s built into my DNA,” Sankaran said. “I don’t know life any other way.”

An engineer by trade, Sankaran worked in both large and small companies with a variety of executives and products and in many different roles.

“I knew the burning desire in me was to be an entrepreneur and have a broader social impact,” she said.

Driven by that spirit, she founded Ketos in 2015, a company that focuses on helping communities find safe drinking water. That same year, she incorporated the nonprofit PRERNA.

“I hope that Ketos gives me the financial freedom one day to only do PRERNA for the rest of my life,” Sankaran said.

Partnering with Gitane

Sankaran doesn’t just seek out businesses willing to collaborate with PRERNA – central to the organization’s purpose is to find partners that inspire the people they serve.

“When we choose our partnerships, we are very creative about how we leverage them – Gitane, in this case,” she said. “Yes, fund- raising is one aspect, but besides the fundraising, being able to empower local small businesswomen or small business owners and showing that power as an example to all our refugee women is priceless.”

Gitane owner Shashi Murthy is an immigrant herself.

“From where a lot of immigrants like us come from, it’s not been an easy ride,” she noted. “From where I’ve come, and the help I’ve received, if I can give back in any way, it’s great.”

Murthy first learned of PRERNA’s work in 2016. She met with the organization’s director of community partnerships, Shreyani Shah, and they came up with the idea to co-host a party at the boutique.

As for the proceeds from the fundraiser, Sankaran already has plans. Most funds will go toward locating permanent housing, a difficult feat in an area strapped for affordable places to live. PRERNA works with many families who have had to rely on temporary housing like hotels.

Some funds will be set aside for PRERNA’s youth programs.

“We have some incredible youth who are on the cusp of getting to college,” Sankaran said. “If we can give them just a little bump with some financial aid, they will make it to college.”

Murthy said Gitane wants to continue the collaboration.

“We want to build up this partnership – maybe every six to eight months have another event,” she said.

PRERNA’s next event is scheduled Nov. 30 at Books Inc. in Palo Alto.

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