Briana Sherid

Briana Sherid, who has high-functioning autism, recently received a care package from Circle of Friends.

Lancaster-based wholesaler Primitives by Kathy has products of gift items, home decor, seasonal items, home accents and other products sold in stores such as Hallmark, Nordstrom, TJMaxx, Dillard’s, Gabe’s, Tuesday Morning and Kohl’s, with annual sales of nearly $50 million.

But the company, founded by Conestoga Valley alum Kathy Phillips in 1997, came from humble beginnings.

“The first five years Goodwill manufactured our product,” Phillips says. “I remember the first time when I needed manufacturing help. Had they (Goodwill) said, ‘No,’ I may have never been able to launch.”

Thanks to Goodwill, about 150 adults with special needs helped to manufacture products for Phillips in the first five years of operation, working out of a small building on Plum Street in Lancaster city.

Primitives by Kathy has since grown and is now headquartered in the Greenfield Corporate Center. About 5% of the company’s workforce is made up of adults with special needs.

“Those early beginnings have a lot to do with our success,” Phillips said. “It’s why I’ll forever give back to those with disabilities.”

And it’s why, for years, Primitives by Kathy workers had volunteered at monthly social gatherings held for adults with special needs. When the organization behind the gatherings stopped holding those events, Phillips immediately filled the void in 2017 by launching Kathy’s Circle of Friends. The nonprofit has since hosted semimonthly themed social events for adults with special needs.

The last social gathering was held at Tellus360 on March 4, just before the COVID-19 pandemic led to schools, restaurants and businesses being shut down.

The lack of gatherings has left a void in the lives in some of those who were regular attendees of the social gatherings.

“It’s been hard,” Marge Sherid says.

Sherid, a West Lampeter Township resident, is the mother to 27-year-old daughter Briana, who has high-functioning autism.

“She (Briana) is doing really well,” Marge Sherid says. “But everything she is involved with is shut down.”

That includes Goodwill, where Briana works twice a week, and Friendship Heart Gallery, where Briana displays her artwork.

Some days have been harder than others. But a day last week was made a little bit brighter for Briana when she received a care package in the mail from Phillips.

Inside was an assortment of items. Bubbles. Puzzles. A word search book. Coloring books. Markers. Colored pencils. A Ring Pop.

Briana’s eyes lit up. She spent the next two hours sitting at her family’s dining room table coloring.

“It was exciting,” Briana says.

The care package was one of about 170 that Phillips had sent to the regular attendees of the Circle of Friends gatherings. Another 1,700 care packages went to Woodcrest Villa /Mennonite Home, Conestoga View Nursing & Rehabilitation and Quarryville Presbyterian Retirement Community, three locations with which Phillips has special bonds through family and friends.

“It meant so much,” Marge Sherid says of the care package. “I’m just very thankful for Kathy and her tremendous heart. She’s a very giving person.”

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