Homeless given opportunity to shop at pop-up street mall

2015-06-22 14:03
Lawrence smiles after receiving his new clothes at the pop-up store. (Maria Pillay, News24)

Lawrence smiles after receiving his new clothes at the pop-up store. (Maria Pillay, News24)

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Johannesburg - When Lawrence left his KwaZulu-Natal hometown for Johannesburg, he did not picture himself sleeping on the streets. But after struggling to find a job, that’s exactly where he found himself.

On Saturday, the friendly 28-year-old joined hundreds of other homeless people on the busy Fuller Street in Bertrams, hoping to get a few warm clothes at the Streetstore, a pop-up charity store hosted by the Ekklesia Community Church.

“I want to find a job, but people like me don’t find jobs easily because of the way we look,” said Lawrence, who did not give his surname.

“I try to find a warm spot in the CBD to sleep, but I hope to find a job soon.”

Event organiser, Wesley Naidoo said he saw Lawrence standing in line and noticed his worn out slip-on shoes.

“No one should have to wear these thin shoes in winter,” Naidoo said.

Naidoo helped Lawrence pick out a pair of jeans, a jersey and jacket, but the size 10 shoes that Lawrence needed were all taken.

‘My first new pair of anything’

Naidoo surprised Lawrence when he presented him with a new pair of takkies that had been sponsored by Tekkie Town, Alberton City.

“It’s my first new pair of anything.  

“I got more than new clothes today. I was treated with dignity and respect,” Lawrence said as he tearfully thanked everyone over and over again.

The Streetstore, a project that started in January 2014, gives homeless people a chance to “shop” with dignity.

“We were initially expecting about 500 people today, but ended up clothing about 700,” Naidoo said.  

Not everyone who showed up for free clothes was homeless though. Some lived in the dilapidated buildings surrounding the community centre. Most were unemployed.  

“But we cannot turn them away, especially the children. We have enough for everyone,” Naidoo said.

Feeding hungry little mouths

Another person making a difference in the area is 47-year-old Beauty Mnci, a caretaker at the Maurice Freeman community centre in Bertrams. Mnci started a free aftercare service as a way of getting children off the streets.

“Most parents here do not work. They are drunk most of the time and the children would be begging on the streets because they are hungry. That is not safe.

“A child could go and ask someone for a R2 and end up being raped and then being given the R2. I started this because I want the children to be safe,” she said.

Mnci said some children in the area were orphans and were living with relatives who had children of their own and were already struggling financially.

“These children would knock on my door and tell me they were hungry so I would cook whatever I had and feed them.”

Crayons, storybooks needed

Mnci depended on donations in order to feed almost 50 children, aged between 3 and 17.  

“We used to send food parcels to families in the area, but some parents just sell the food to buy alcohol so now the children come to me after school.

“I give them a meal at 16:00, just before they go home. This is the only meal most of them have before they come back to me the next day.”

A sparsely furnished room, with two empty cupboards and a steel table in the corner serves as a place of safety for these children, even if it’s just for a few hours. Pictures coloured in by the kids were pinned on a notice board.

“The children finish their homework here and the younger ones spend their time colouring. We have only a few broken crayons, but it keeps the children busy,” she said.

Mnci is hoping to get more storybooks and crayons for the little ones.
“It would be nice to get some chairs and tables for them to work on,” she said.

Read more on:    johannesburg  |  good news  |  poverty

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