My day started off perfectly fine. Better than that even. I went for a great morning walk, up my much-beloved mountain. We Rejoice in the beauty surrounding me. I breathed in fresh air. I Drank fresh handfuls of icy cold water from a stream running down the mountain. I was alternatively listening to an audiobook through my headphones or the sounds of gurgling mountain water and nature. Chatting to fellow walkers along the way. My head never quietens for a moment. Going through a bit of a dilemma currently, and I was thinking of a solution to my problem. Trying to take all of the bits apart and put them back together again. I always feel so proudly South African.Better of course. And I was doing a fair bit of daydreaming too. Thinking about my kids, my family, my friends, etc. My mind was drifting.
So all, in all – a beautiful day.
Which makes it a bit odd that now, just a few short hours later, I’m crying. Rather a lot. And it’s not even about my dilemma. Which makes it both better and worse.
Quite by accident, I found out about something, and it rocked my world. Knocked it off kilter for a bit. It’s left me humbled, emotional and extremely aware of the countless blessings in my life. Ones I take for granted. Things that are not quantifiable, but that add inestimable value to my world.
I have dignity. I have a level of self-confidence. I value my worth. I have faith in my abilities.
How much of that is tied into how I perceive myself? And how I think others see me? I think a lot.
How would I feel if I could not do one of the most basic human things? Afford to dress myself.
Homelessness and poverty is not a uniquely South African problem. It is prevalent throughout this world. It is seen in cities, in towns, in rural little villages. Many a night, when we are warm and snug in our beds with our bellies full, there are people out there, sleeping under newspapers, making fires in drums, huddling around for warmth. No protection from the elements, barring shelter they find – maybe an overhanging bridge, a doorway, and usually very little, ill-fitting clothes.
But then, two very special people, art director and designer, Max Pazak, and copywriter, Kayli Vee Levitan, from M&C Saatchi Abel, decided to make a change. To try something different. Alarmed by the massive amounts of homeless people they encountered in Green Point, they wanted to help. But how?
Clothing is something you and I, probably take for granted. Wake up in the morning, open a cupboard, pull out a draw or two. Make a choice from a selection of long pants, skirts or dresses, or shorts. Shirts, sweaters, vests, socks, shoes, slops. We don’t even think about it. We’ve got clothing options.
But if you don’t have a home, it stands to reason, that there’s no wardrobe. No choice. You wear everything you own. Day in. Day out. Every. Single. Day.
So how does one address this need? There are many excellent charitable organisations out there, and that aim to help. They get donations from the public, and they do what they can to feed and clothe the poor. I know this. I’ve donated clothing. I’ve given food. And I’ve seen these shelters and places. I’ve even helped. Donated clothing are put on tables. Everything jumbled together or hung up on makeshift racks. It’s awesome, but I think it takes away dignity. It’s the best that can be done, and I admire them for everything they do, but is there perhaps a different approach?
These two guys decided to take things to another level.
They came up with the idea of the world’s first rent-free, premises-free, free “pop-up clothing store” for the poor. It’s bloody brilliant! They approached individual charities, which were already distributing to the needy, The Haven on Napier and The Salesian Institute, also in Cape Town. And they put their heads together.
They designed a set of 5 different posters, all promoting “The Street Store”. Big cardboards, with cut-out slots, that look just like clothing hangers. Passers-by, like you and me, fill the hangers with old clothes that we no longer need. There are slotted hangers for dresses, pants, skirts, sweaters, etc. And flat boxes for shoes. Even donations of accessories, like scarves, handbags and the like are welcomed. In essence, the cardboard poster stands, can be hung up anywhere, on fences, walls and so on. Creating the impression of aisles. Fashion displays even.
In my mind, this is a much better and more innovative idea, than a flat table, with a whole bundle of clothes, all mixed up. It engages with the clientele it’s trying to reach. Enticing them to partake of their very first retail experience. For many it is possibly their first time, choosing clothes. Not only taking a hand-out or a hand-me-down. Because though in principle, this is exactly what it is, a hand-out, hand-me-down, it’s taken the concept of charity, and given it dignity. The simple act of choosing what you wear, and having pride in that choice is remarkable. And is life changing.
It’s a pretty simple and super effective idea. Homeless people, can visit The Street Store, and choose some clothes. The Street Stores are set up in areas with a high prevalence of homeless people. Somewhat visible, so that donations can be made, but also in areas that would indeed service the homeless. In places where they already congregate.
Street Store volunteers act as shop assistants, are on standby, and assist the homeless, offering fashion advice to their customers as they try and choose donated items. Customers peruse at their will, flipping through their choices, and making their selections. They are assisted in trying on shoes, choosing a warm sweater, perhaps a scarf to help ward off the cold too.
In January 2014, the very first Street Store was set up in Cape Town. With no idea as to whether it would work. No idea if the public would donate. No idea if the homeless would visit and choose outfits. It was a gamble.
And so, on that very first day, at the very first Street Store, pure magic happened. Apparently, it was a beautiful thing. Over 1 000 homeless people visited the store and were clothed. Their items neatly wrapped up. Giving them not just the gift of their first clothes shopping experience, but certain style. Confidence. Feeling worthy. And having pride in their appearance. Making them feel so good about themselves. What an incredible gift. A privilege. And I can well imagine that the people working that day, felt even more blessed by the experience, than those that received clothes.
(Photography by Neal Tosefsky)
Because homelessness and poverty are such a universal problem, The Street Store, decided to make their concept open-source. Anybody across the world can follow this initiative. Incredible! Depicting the real generosity, they are promoting, by sharing their idea. So that more people can benefit. Not just those first thousand, on the first day.
And this has made me so incredibly humble and proud. Proud of my country. Proud of her awesome, kind hearted, loving people. With their giving natures.
Hopefully one day, I’ll grow up to be one of those people too.
Thank you, people of Cape Town, for helping the people of Cape Town. You guys are absolutely awesome!
Every time I look at these photos, I get a lump in my throat. A piece of gratitude, of hope and love. Viva South Africa, Viva! Let’s all feel so “Proudly South African”
Help make a difference in someone’s life. You might not think something like giving a scarf would make that big of a difference, but to someone sitting outside in the cold, hard wind gusts during Winter, it means more than you can imagine. Spread the warmth and make a difference any way you can.
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