Pop-up shop returns to Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, inviting residents to shop for free
Event at Oppenheimer Park in its 9th year, aims to have residents shop with dignity
About 600 people visited an annual pop-up street shop providing essential winter clothing to some of Vancouver's most vulnerable residents on Saturday, the event's organizers say.
The Vancouver Street Store in Oppenheimer Park, now in its ninth year, invites neighbourhood residents to shop for free from donated items such as winter coats, boots and backpacks.
"Warm, wanted and good health, that's the main thing around this community, we must maintain good health," said Michael Nardachioni, a peer support worker in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
"We've gone through two years of COVID not being able to communicate ... with each other, this is a good outlet to that, especially this time of year around Christmas."
The Vancouver Street Store is organized by Employ to Empower, which offers business skills training, mentorship, micro-loans and self-advocacy opportunities to people in the Downtown Eastside.
B.C. Housing and several other Vancouver businesses and agencies sponsored Saturday's event.
Organizers say 853 bags of items were donated leading up to the event, which included blankets, sleeping bags and hats, gloves and scarves.
Christina Wong, with Employ to Empower, says the store is set up to have patrons shop in what is described as a dignified manner, where they can pick and choose their own items.
"We want to listen to what people need rather than assume so people have that sense of autonomy returned to themselves," she said.
Wong says it's emotional seeing many people coming back to the event year after year.
"It's heartwarming to talk to some of the residents here and just get to know individuals," she said. "Every person has a different story and it really does shift the stigma that we see typically."
Vanessa Leland said she volunteered with the event to help meet the needs of people living in Vancouver's poorest neighbourhood.
"It opens your eyes ... and you really can be part of the community and [give] back."
Employ to Empower says since 2014, the street store has engaged 600 volunteers and shared more than 70,000 donations to nearly 7,000 residents in the Downtown Eastside.
The street store also offered free food, drinks and haircuts.
with files from Yasmin Gandham