SFU psychology student Christina Wong is organizing a free, one-day pop-up shop in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside on Dec. 18.

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Q&A: SFU student’s “street store” gives back this holiday season in the Downtown Eastside

December 15, 2016
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By Allen Tung

‘Tis the season of giving and an SFU student is giving back to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside by bringing the homeless a dignified shopping experience that they seldom receive.

Called “The Street Store,” this free, one-day pop-up shop allows many vulnerable people to go shopping for gently used clothing items, accessories and shoes. They pick out what they like and want for free.

The shop will be setup by SFU psychology student Christina Wong and a team of 40 volunteers on Sunday, Dec. 18 at 62 East Hastings Street, near Columbia Street, and will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Donations are still needed, visit the Facebook event to learn more.

“Often people who are homeless and in need, they are simply given something or they take what they can,” says Wong. “They don’t get to shop for the colour of blanket or style of clothing that they want like we do. It is my hope, through the street store, to give them a dignified shopping experience that they rarely get—if at all.”

Wong organized her first street store in 2014 with the help of 10 volunteers. Now in its third year, it has grown to 40 volunteers, the number of partners have tripled and there are now more than 2,000 donations from the community.

SFU News spoke with Wong about her upcoming “Street Store”:

How can I get involved? What are the most-needed items for the store?

Blankets, socks, backpacks, toiletries and shoes. Outside of this, we also take male/female clothing, kids clothing, books, accessories and toys. For drop off location, please text me at 778.928.1221.

What motivates you to organize the store?

My goal is to shatter, question and revamp the preconceived stereotypes of homelessness in our society today. Judgments are difficult to change once people are set on them, but the Street Store offers another angle to look at homelessness. I often get to witness stereotypical assumptions vanish from our volunteers after participating in the event. This is the fuel behind my motivation to continue hosting annual Street Stores.

Are there any shout outs you want to give?  

The Street Store executive team, a group of 12 people, have contributed consistently and donated countless hours towards gathering donations, ensuring we are promoting it effectively. Their unconditional support has made this happen the past two years.

What’s your message to the world this holiday season?

Don't judge a person based on the chapter you walked in on. Judging a person is a toxic shortcut that satisfies our need to "know" about anything or anyone. Human lives are more complex than a single judgment. The next time you see someone who is homeless, there are three simple things you can do: make eye contact, smile and—if you’re comfortable—have an open and genuine conversation with them. Judge less, listen more. We learn more when we listen.

This is the third year SFU psychology student Christina Wong (front row, second from the left) has organized The Street Store Vancouver in the Downtown Eastside.