Pop-up London store sells items such as sleeping bags, blankets and solar lamps.
An orderly queue formed outside the Choose Love store despite the November cold. But unlike the thousands of visitors to other stores across central London, these shoppers were not looking to grab a Black Fridaybargain, they were lining up to buy gifts for refugees.
The pop-up store off Carnaby Street has been set up by the charity Help Refugees and invites visitors to “shop your heart out, leave with nothing, and feel the love”. Shoppers can buy a range of items for refugees, including sleeping bags, emergency blankets and solar lamps.
“Christmas is a time of giving in abundance, but it makes you think about people who aren’t as lucky as we are,” said Josie Naughton, the chief executive of Help Refugees. “When you look at the stats of how much money is spent on Black Friday and compare that to the need in the world, it’s quite shocking.
“We just really wanted to show there was another way to look at consumerism and another way to look at Black Friday.”
Nestled between high street shops advertising this year’s latest deals, the store is split into three areas, each exploring a different stage of a refugee’s journey: survival, shelter and the future.
As well as emergency relief items, shoppers can pay to give a refugee family legal support, helping with family reunions and mental health care.
It is the second year Help Refugees has run the pop-up store, while this year it has also opened a similar store in New York. Last year, the London store and its online equivalent raised £750,000, which helped provide refugees with 800,000 meals, 3,556 nights of accommodation, and 25,000 essential winter items for adults.
“We could never ever have predicted the success of the store. The way people have responded to it was amazing. People were coming into the physical shop, see a child’s boot and burst into tears,” Naughton said. The store showcases children’s shoes and coats to humanise a refugee crisis that’s largely spoken about in numbers, she said.
Holly Blake, 32, who was queueing outside the store, said: “I don’t need anything for me, and my family don’t need more things. We want to spend our money doing something a bit better, a bit more worthwhile and also something that makes us feel a bit better.”
Jessica Parry, 27, said: “Secret Santa is upon us and I think there’s something nice in spreading a little love instead of bits of plastic that are probably going to end up in landfill next year.
“My grandfather doesn’t like getting presents at Christmas but he was a great-grandfather three times last year so I bought three babygrows to represent each of those great-grandchildren.”
The queue cheered once the store opened. Jack Steadman, 28, said he was keen to support the work of Help Refugees. “I’ve been out to Calais and I’ve seen the work that they do has saved lives. They’re acting where other people don’t act,” he said.
Zehra Ali, 26, who was standing near the shelter section, which sells bathing items and food, said: “We’re shopping our hearts out and this store gives us the opportunity to buy things for people that actually really need it.
“London’s been pretty cold the past couple of days and just kind of getting a taste of what it’s like to be cold, and then to think that somebody is in a very, very bad condition just next door in Greece and France, and thinking about refugees in Europe and how cold it must be for them and how difficult it must be for people.”
Via The Guardian