The Spirit of MLK Lives on in A Pop Up Store

Life’s most persistant and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?.                ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

My friend Janice, with her friend Catherine, has created a beautiful Pop-Up Shop at her church. Through Operation Warm Heart (one of many programs of The Coalition to Support the Homeless), Janice has supported her church program to give shelter to homeless people. When Janice noticed the coats left in a heap as guests arrived, she had an idea: how can I create a shopping space with donated coats and other clothing, where people could shop when they arrived? Indeed, Janice did it! Here Janice tells her story ..

Over the summer I asked Catherine if she would mind if the took the problem of the clothing off her hands. I was glad she didn’t mind. I asked the Trustees to clean out the coat room, which is a nice size room. I purchased clothing racks and display signs from a local Sears; when I shared my purpose with the salespeople they were very helpful in selecting the equipment that I would need. The youth group at the church helped me to hang the donated clothing on racks. I loved the concept of a Pop-UP Shop and selected a name which is full of meaning for me. Johnnie Mae and Edna’s Pop-Up Shop is named after my mom and my Aunt Edna.  My aunt was the director of social services in Cranford, NJ, and my mom always talked about being kind and understanding of people, especially those in need. My grandparents helped people during the Depression; their children had a good example to follow.

My shop opened in December for Catherine’s first day of hosting. The guests now come every Tuesday (we used to host only once a month). Operating the shop is so much fun! I usually have volunteers to help me and many of them come because they have heard of it. The guests are encouraged to come in and shop when they arrive. One guest told me that the Pop-UP is like shopping at Burlington; I told him it’s actually better because you can’t beat the price … FREE! I love helping the guests to select clothing, but I usually ask them if they need help; if not, I let them look on their own. I think that’s what makes it so successful; we treat the guests like they are at home. I encourage the guests to try something on and return it if they don’t like it. I joke about our return policy being the best! I love joking with them! Last week, one of the guys liked a coat until the other guests told him it was too young for him. He listened to them and brought it back. I told the guy to tell them he had a personal shopper and to leave him alone. I told the guys to stop harassing my customers and they laughed!  One of the guests told me I had the best spirit which was such a nice compliment. All of the clothing is donated but we do purchase items like socks and underwear.

I have a lot of beautiful stories. Usually the guests are men because more programs exist to assist women and families with shelter. One evening an elderly woman who seemed to have some mental disability stayed with us. She needed a coat and came to the shop.  One of the volunteers was so gentle with her and patient helping the woman to select clothing. It took a long time because she told us she was picky, and indeed she was! But the volunteer helped her to get a coat and some sweaters. It was beautiful to watch. I get to do my favorite thing, which is to be kind.”
I think that MLK is smiling down on Janice and the work she is doing to serve others in need. I am touched by Janice’s ability to provide a dignified space to search for something so fundamentally basic to us all; clothing to warm us and help us to feel our best selves.

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