MLK Day of Service: The Street Store
The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty states that each year approximately 3.5 million unique individuals experience homelessness in America with 4,000 of those individuals right here in Chattanooga. 600-700 of these individuals find shelter outside, wherever they can seek refuge from the weather conditions (http://community-kitchen.org/facts-homelessness, 2017). The Salvation Army’s Recreate Cafe, looks to be a safe haven for the homeless by providing coffee, snacks, internet, mail services, bible studies, and much more during the day while other shelters are closed.
For the last three years, The Salvation Army has partnered with Southern Adventist University to host the “Street Store,”on Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. The Street Store acts like a “pop up store” which have become increasingly popular. A pop up store is a short retail event that is “here today, gone tomorrow” and strives to leave a lasting impression on its customers. The event is held on the sidewalk outside of The Recreate Cafe and the purpose is to provide the homeless community with a fun and dignified “shopping” experience. The volunteers from Southern Adventist set up the Street Store with donated clothing and signs and act as personal shopper for the “customers” or homeless individuals; guiding them through the shopping process and helping design outfits. Once the individual is finished shopping, complimentary lunch is served.
“The homeless look forward to this day, because it is not too often that they have someone help them pick out the correct sizes, colors, and just have a fun time shopping with a friend,” said Kimberly George, Director of Development and Marketing.
Like many of the activities held at The Recreate Cafe, the purpose is for the homeless to have a day of fun; to feel normal when they are faced with so much adversity daily. This last MLK Day, we had the privilege of serving nearly 100 homeless community members. They enjoyed the shopping, soup and sandwiches, and a gospel choir from Southern Adventist University, as well. It was a great day full of love and service, as two different populations came together and enjoyed each other’s company. As the students t-shirts read and in the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”