From the streets of Rio de Janeiro, Vancouver, Berlin, Manila, Tallahassee, and even Manchester, The Street Store finally arrived in Karachi on Sunday and the precedent it set couldn’t have been more encouraging.
The world’s first “rent-free, premises-free, free ‘pop-up clothing store’ for the poor” began its journey at Raiti Lines, where early morning a group of like-minded individuals prepped for the arrival of 70-odd families from the adjoining slum areas for a shopping spree they would never forget.
Founded in January 2014 in South Africa, The Street Store is a novel idea that incorporates the usual donation-based charity and instead puts the intended target at the centre of this exchange; they no longer ‘take what they are given’, but actually have a say in what they get, either indulging their wants, or to replenish the stock of their needs, without a thought to its expense.
Another interesting element of The Street Store is that it is open-source; anyone can replicate the model anywhere in the world. All that is required is a basic registration online, following a certain set of instructions after which the store is assigned a store number.
In collaboration with the Manzil School which provides education to underprivileged children, the 349th Street Store in Karachi was a philanthropist endeavour by team members Jude Allen, Donna Fernandes, Maliha Adil, Minerva John and Agha Sheraz Khan, who worked tirelessly to bring together their strengths and passion for charity work.
Allen, a business consultant and also involved in textiles sourcing, shared his first contact with the organisation to bring the concept to Karachi. “At first I had no idea what was in store for me. Then, my brilliant team with whom I shared the concept, in no time started planning a small store where we could hand out clothes and shoes to the poor. It was just a street awareness campaign to make people more aware of the severe problem of homelessness in Pakistan.”
For Fernandes, a programme coordinator at Habib University, it was surprising to note that the stores were even being set up in cities such as California and Montreal. “It is a genius idea: a free shopping experience for the poor and homeless and so we decided it needed to be done in Karachi.”
All team members were overwhelmed by the response they received, as private organisations, professionals and even students took part in the donation process.
Adil, a barrister-at-law at Byco Oil Pakistan, shared how “people donated brand new clothes, shoes, bags, toys and household items in enormous quantities, from other cities as well. It was a joy to watch kids choosing toys, trying on shoes and girls picking beautiful dresses while mothers shopped for crockery and other household items. Social work is my passion and launching the very first Street Store in Karachi is a dream come true.”
Social media played a huge role in making this venture a success, be it for donation requests, gathering volunteers and generating publicity about the venture.
A volunteer was assigned to each family who was responsible for helping family members select from a range of items, such as household items, including utensils and cutlery, warm clothing for the upcoming winter, handbags, shoes, and clothing for children, women and adult men; toys were also part of the offering.
Some volunteers had even set up a face painting stall where young children patiently stood in line for their turn.
The Street Store’s outreach was most apparent on meeting the volunteers who were from a diverse demographic; some were university students, while most were mid-level professionals; however it was Ms Arifa who generated the most interest.
A very active 60-year-old, she took charge of the household items section and gave sound advice to each family as and when they came around. “It is important to advise the families when they select such items. They can at times pick things which attract them and not think about its practicality so it is important to understand their requirements first and then suggest accordingly.”
Now and then a young child could be seen trudging away with a bicycle or a toy of his choosing picked up from the store, a glint in his eye and the day ended on such similar highs.