The holiday season is upon us. While many are putting together wish lists and going gift shopping, 62,963 homeless people in New York City – including children – just yearn for small comforts like a hot meal, warm clothes, and a safe place to sleep.
Of the homeless youth population in New York City, studies have found that LGBTI youth make up 40%. A 2014 study found that 1 in 5 transgender people in the United States are in need of shelter services.
One organization that’s doing something to help provide comfort for New York’s homeless is The Pop-Up Care Shop.
Founded by Kadia Blagrove and Kydee Williams, two NYC-based writers, the organization is described as ‘an interactive charity drive project.’ Partnering with different non-profits, the two women collect donated goods and ‘set up shop’ to create a unique shopping experience for those in need. The clothing is set up in retail-like fashion, and shoppers get to pick out what they want. This is vastly different from traditional drop-off donation centers, where homeless people aren’t given much of a choice.
The Pop-Up Care Shop held one of their events on 16 December. GSN spoke to Blagrove and Williams about their project and how it’s helping those who need it most.
How it began
‘Kydee and I both have a background in community service and just wanted to make a more direct impact on our communities. The actual idea of the shop was inspired by a unforgettable moment I had a couple years ago,’ Blagrove recalls.
‘Back in 2015, I held a small clothing drive for Bowery Mission. As I was delivering the donations to the shelter, I ran into Andre, a 17-year-old homeless teen with a physical disability. It was freezing and he didn’t have on enough clothes to keep him warm. I asked if he wanted to follow me to the shelter, but he declined and asked if it was OK if he could get some of the clothing donations. I opened the bag for him to search through and I realized he was rushing to not hold me up, but I told him to take his time and pick what he wanted and what would keep him warm.’
‘As we sorted through the clothes, it occurred to me that so many people who find themselves in vulnerable situations can feel powerless and as if they don’t deserve even basic privileges, such as choosing what to wear. So I took the idea of having a shop of free clothes to Kydee and we just built it from there.’
The recent event
‘This year we had a lot of teens and kids doing their own shopping. We even had a few men show up which is amazing,’ Blagrove says of the 16 December event. ‘At the moment, our focus is on women’s shelters, but Park Avenue Thorpe extended the invitation to the Thorpe shelter network within the Bronx, so we got to treat a mix of everyone. What’s great is that this year we actually did receive men’s clothing donations, but didn’t think we would need to bring it to the shop. When the guys started to come in, we made a dash back to our storage to grab our men’s stock. It was a wonderful surprise!’
Why it matters
‘Catering to marginalized groups is incredibly close to our hearts because even without homelessness they are subject to prejudice,’ Blagrove says. ‘Not only that, but many reside in shelters that are underfunded and understaffed.’
‘In 2017, there were over 61,000 homeless people in New York City alone,’ Williams adds. ‘Homelessness can make you feel dehumanized, devalued, and hopeless. But we can’t sit around and wait for other people to handle this problem and not do what we can to help because it’s only getting worst; shelters are overcrowded and understaffed, rent is increasing and salaries and jobs are decreasing or remaining stagnant.’
‘In spite of these issues, our Care Shop allows these individuals to have a shopping experience at no expense to them. They are not judged, they are embraced. They are assisted by volunteers, aka Care Shop Stylists, who help them find sizes and cute outfits but who also serve as a listening ear. Each bag this year came with sanitary napkins and other practical hygiene products.’
‘Little girls found dresses that they could wear to their school’s holiday parties, women found suits that they could wear for their job interviews. They didn’t have to ask, they didn’t have to take if they didn’t want to. They had a choice! That’s what’s the pop-up care shop is all about. Empowering these individuals to have a choice again.’
Both Williams and Blagrove would love to eventually expand The Pop-Up Care Shop to other cities. ‘We are dreaming big and would love to take our care shop on the road, but we are also crowd funded right now so in a few years we will realistically be able to do this,’ Williams says.