Mom Who Needed Help Paying for Her Daughter's Adoption Opens Store to Pass That Same 'Blessing' to Others

"Just saying 'thank you' didn't seem like enough," Brittany Berrie, founder of The Adopted Closet, says of her cousin's offer to cover her adoption fee

Thanks to a generous family member, an Iowa mom was able to adopt the little girl she'd raised since infancy. Now, she's paying it forward by helping cover other families' adoption fees.

Brittany Berrie, 32, first met daughter Gracie, now 12, when she was three days old — and right away, Berrie "had this overwhelming feeling this little girl was going to be part of my life," she tells PEOPLE for this week's issue.

At the time, Berrie was only 20 and living at home with her mom and dad while working on her associate's degree. "I thought my parents were going to think I was crazy, but they were on board," she says.

She became Gracie's main caregiver when the girl, whose biological father is a family member of Berrie's, was just a few weeks old. And when Gracie was 4, Berrie became her legal guardian.

The Adopted Closet
Brittany Berrie and Branden Johnson with (L-R) Gracie, Montana and Boston. Amanda Williams

Although Berrie says "always wanted" to adopt Gracie, she didn't think it was something she "would ever be able to afford."

Recalling one conversation she had with a lawyer after getting guardianship, Berrie says "he didn't even give me a number," and just told her it would be very expensive. Years later, another attorney told her virtually the same thing.

"I just figured maybe she can emancipate, or we'll just wait until she's 18 and I can adopt her then," Berrie says.

Then, a conversation at a family celebration changed everything.

While attending her brother's wedding in November 2020, Berrie caught up with her second cousin, Casie Beddome. Although Beddome had spent time with Gracie whenever she came to visit, she had no idea Berrie hadn't formally adopted her.

"I started asking questions, and just kind of got the full story of the legal guardianship and how that doesn't cover if something happens to Brittany," Beddome says. "That was a source of anxiety for both Gracie and Brittany."

After talking things over, Beddome offered to cover the cost. "Casie said, 'If the only thing standing in your way is money, then let me help," Berrie recalls.

For more on Berrie's story, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.

On July 6, 2021, that generosity paved the way for Berrie to legally become Gracie's mom.

"Gracie and I have always shared a beautiful bond, but now that bond is permanent, and nobody can ever take her away," she says.

That day, Gracie also took the last name of Berrie's now-fiancé Branden Johnson, a water treatment chemical salesman she met in 2014. They are also parents to son Boston, 4, and daughter Montana, 2.

"Up until her adoption, her last name was Berrie, which is the same last name as me, but she wanted his last name," Berrie says, noting that Johnson plans to become Gracie's legal dad after the couple gets married later this year.

The Adopted Closet
Brittany Berrie with Gracie, Boston and Montana. Amanda Williams

Now, Berrie is doing her part to help give other families the same "blessing" she received.

In May 2021, Berrie began the process of transforming her garage into The Adopted Closet, a nonprofit vintage and gently used clothing store whose net proceeds help families pay the often-hefty fees charged by adoption attorneys, which typically range from $8,000 to $40,000, per AdoptUSKids.

The idea came to Berrie one day while she was hitting yard sales with her mom, Susan.

"I had already been struggling with, how do I thank Casie?" she recalls. "Just saying 'thank you' didn't seem like enough."

Once it dawned on her that she could resell items and raise money to cover families' adoption fees, word spread quickly in her tight-knit community, and soon "my front yard was filled with bags of clothes," she says.

Since opening in September, Berrie has already helped families like Cassandra and Adam Holdorf and their two boys, ages 5 and 7, make their adoption dreams come true.

Berrie says Gracie was "so excited" when the process was finalized. "She told me she wanted to sign the check," she adds with a laugh.

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.

On weekdays, Berrie logs on to her store's website around 4:30 a.m. to catalog and price donated clothing items, available for online purchase and shipping worldwide.

Winter weather temporarily closed the shop's physical doors, but their grand reopening sale is slated for April 23, and Berrie hopes to open an actual storefront soon.

As for her big goal of the year, Berrie would like to fund all the adoptions in Scott County on National Adoption Day, which falls on Nov. 19. She doesn't yet know how many there will be, but she's already in contact with an attorney connected to the effort.

"People get scared because they don't think they can adopt," she says. "They don't think they can do it mentally, physically and financially. I want to help them see it is possible."

Related Articles