LOS ANGELES – Every morning, Penny Manning says hi to Bertha, the office wax warmer, and gets to work.
On a typical day, Manning can make up to 250 candles. The secret to a flawless pour is in the wrist.
“When you pour your candles you want to pour it really slowly and this is to keep air from building up in it,” Manning said.
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On a chilly November morning, just days before the kick-off of the 2019 holiday season, Manning began making a fresh batch of “Lady Bird” candles, a combination of Jasmine, Magnolia and Gardenia. It is a meticulous process that requires precision.
“It’s very relaxing and soothing,” Manning said as she poured the hot wax into the glass receptacle. “It’s almost like therapy.”
A domestic violence survivor, Manning fled her abuser seven years ago and came to Los Angeles with $100 in her pocket. For a year she slept on busses and trains eating whatever she could find.
“It’s hard when you’re a female and you’re homeless,” Manning said. “It’s much different. All you can think about it trying to be safe.”
But then she stumbled upon the Downtown Women’s Center, a non-profit in the heart of Skid Row, which helps people like Manning with housing and job training. It was then that her life turned around. Before long, she was learning how to make candles as part of their program. She was so good, in fact, they offered her a job.
“When they told me they were going to make me permanent I was like, ‘What,’” Manning said.
The Center was able to bring her on full time thanks to a special partnership with Gifts for Good, a socially conscious start-up with the mission to disrupt the world of corporate swag by encouraging companies to use their holiday budgets for a worthy cause.
“Companies spend over $100 billion every year on corporate gifts, which is crazy,” Gifts For Good CEO Laura Hertz said. “It’s a massive amount of money and we really want to enable them to be able to change people’s lives through money that they’re already spending,”
Now Manning is off the streets, living in Long Beach, and she has even been promoted to candle designer.
“My life has blossomed ever since then. Coming in learning how to make candles and soaps and now I’m actually developing. What a blessing,” Manning said.