British Columbia

Vancouver's free Street Store marks 5 years of Christmas charity

Pop-up store founder says the street shop has helped 2,500 residents of the Downtown Eastside celebrate Christmas.

Pop-up store founder says the street shop has helped 2,500 DTES residents celebrate Christmas

Christina Wong founded Vancouver's street store to help the city's vulnerable population provide gifts for Christmas. (CBC)

A one-day pop-up store in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside has marked its fifth year of helping some of the city's most vulnerable residents by allowing to them to shop for free Christmas gifts.

The Street Store was the idea of Christina Wong, who five years ago booked two tables in an outdoor space at 62 E. Hastings St.

"It actually ended up being something bigger than I anticipated," she said.

One of the tables at the 2018 Street Store, which relies on donations and volunteers. (CBC)

Now in 2018, the store has helped around 2,500 people shop for toys, clothes, shoes and other items. Over the last five years, 25,000 items have been donated.

Each customer can select seven items. Everything is donated by individuals and businesses. Volunteers run the store, which opened on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Wong says the aim is to create a safe and respectful experience for shoppers.

"We're not just here to give people what we think they need; we want to understand their needs first, just like how we would for a friend," she said,

Christina Wong says children often come to the street store to get toys for Christmas. (CBC)

She said that over the years, she's had hand-written cards given to her by neighbourhood residents, thanking her for the store. Children also often come to pick out toys.

"It's unfortunate that some families are unable to afford a gift for a child, so here we really want to celebrate that and give that Christmas experience," she said.

This year, Telus partnered with the store to help offer a mobile health clinic alongside the store. The Vancity credit union has also supported the store.

People shop at the Vancouver Street Store on Sunday. (CBC)

Wong is also the executive director of Employ to Empower, which tries to connect low-income people from the Downtown Eastside with jobs.

She said she finds it moving how many people are willing to donate to the store and to volunteer for it.

"The level of compassion and curiosity about this community has increased, and that's just really our goal," she said.

With files from Joel Ballard