Better Off Together - A Pop-Up Success

On November 17, in line with Pope Francis’ call to promote the Second World Day of the Poor, Vinnies chapters in the wider Wellington region held free stores, providing thousands of items of clothes free of charge to those in need. The stores were the largest of the Archdiocese’s efforts, with others including 150 fruitcakes sent to Kaikoura, the Soup Kitchen organising full days of meals paid forward, and Challenge2000 holding a workshop and reflection.

For Vinnies, however, the focus on free stores came after the successful event in August, where 14 out of the 15 bales of clothing up for grabs were distributed. This time around, 48 bales were gathered from the retail stock or donated towards the cause, leaving the team in Newtown with an immense task of organising the clothes, games, books and linen, and laying it all out for the shoppers. The key to success here was the huge number of volunteers and assistance from different organisations, which split both the workload and cost of running the day’s events. An estimated 457 volunteer hours were put in, and the list of supporting businesses and groups is too long to name in full. Thanks especially go out to the groups who donated food, which became another key aspect of the day – as key organiser Millie noted, the free lunch gave people more of a reason to stick around and chat with others, solidifying the “Better Off Together” community-based theme for the day.

Other feedback from volunteers highlighted the gratitude shown towards Vinnies, with many attendees astonished that everything, even the food, was free to those who needed it. The music for the day, led by a local busker, added to the joy-filled nature of the event, and the sheer amount of clothes laid out gave people opportunities to look for items they wouldn’t usually go for when money is limited. All up, around 70% of the clothes (34 bales) were distributed to 902 customers. The food was equally popular, with 360 portions of banana cake, 300 sausages, 216 tacos and 120 portions of nachos consumed, alongside sushi, Christmas cake, and scones.

The Newtown event was clearly a huge success and was matched by events in other chapters in the Wellington region, including over 300 customers at the Porirua free store and similar success in Wainuiomata and the Hutt Valley. With careful planning led by Millie and over 100 volunteers throughout the week, the free store format is being cemented as a great way to connect the community and distribute stock that otherwise might be thrown out, proving that “Better Off Together” is the way forward for Vinnies in Wellington.