Compassion's the cash when homeless go 'shopping'
Street Store honours Madiba’s spirit by giving clothes and toiletries to those who sleep rough
“Even if you don’t give me anything else, please just give me a pair of shoes,” the homeless man pleaded. Without a second thought, a volunteer at the charity Street Store set up on the East Rand on Wednesday took off his own pair of shoes and gave them to the man.
Two beaming faces stared at one another before they went their separate ways, one with a bouncier step than when he entered.
From as early as 5am, hundreds of homeless people started queueing at the premises in Benoni, where the Northmead Square shopping centre, the Bentel property group and various other organisations set up shop for their celebration of Mandela Day. For one day, they could come shop to their hearts’ content, picking up even brand names like Solo and items from high-end store Zara for free.From the day before, volunteers sorted, folded, hung and labelled clothing, ready for their customers the next day.
“We realised that homelessness was a huge issue in the Benoni community,” said Sharné Bodenstein, one of the organisers. “We wanted to give the homeless a dignified shopping experience free of charge.”Then, a 10.30am, the doors opened and the first customers were ushered in and shown the wares by a “shop assistant”. In the next half an hour, close to 300 people were already lining up.
Bianca, 26, and Barend Fourie, 40, both originally came from Heidelberg, Mpumalanga to Johannesburg about eight years ago with the prospects of finding employment.
“We are really grateful for this event; it shows that they [organisers] want to give us another chance in life as human beings. Sometimes, in places like Springs, they treat us as trash,” Bianca said.“We are sometimes lucky to find piece jobs in people’s homes, but many don’t trust us.”
Hennie Pieters, 40, originally from the Northern Cape, described the event as “a very kind gift”.
Pieters says his mother died when he was young. He and his two siblings grew further apart as they got older, and he has limited contact with his father.
“In this world you’re on your own,” he said. “I wish there was more of these events. Today I felt like a person who has a family,” he said, sipping his soup.
Edwin Mahlangu, 37, could not help talking about his goods. “I got shoes, pants and toiletries. I am really excited.”The Zimbabwean-born Mahlangu said excitedly: “I can’t wait to get to Park Station bathroom and bath so I can smell like a normal person.”
He made sure he also had a surprise for his girlfriend – a pair of white wedge-heeled sandals.
Bodenstein said the event was initially planned for the homeless, but the need proved to be greater than anticipated as people struggling to survive financially also come to ask for help. “We didn’t turn anyone away.”Things became a bit chaotic as the crowd grew, some trying to sneak past the line.
But the volunteers and security personnel were very quick to prevent squabbles. Placing everyone in line, they reassured them with: “There is something for everyone, guys. Please be patient.”
The clothes shopping also included toothpaste, shampoo and a toothbrush.
People were free to choose what clothing they wanted, while an assistant was always on hand to help and provide guidance on available sizes and various items.Every person could choose up to three different clothing items, depending on their need. These included jerseys, pants and shoes, which seemed to be in great demand.
And what better way to end a day of shopping than with a bite to eat? Clutching their shopping bags, they sat back to enjoy a hot meal, sweets and ice cream.
Bodenstein said the street store was a proudly South African initiative started in 2014 in Cape Town.
She also expressed gratitude to all their sponsors who gave them a wide range of donations to make the store a success.