• Jon Heatherly

Free Stores - Stunning Mutual Aid

Mutual Aid for a More Just World pt. 7

Image by ivan_kislitsin via Shutterstock


Another spectacular example of solidarity is free stores. Imagine a place where you don’t pay but rather get what you need. You can leave clean, durable goods you no longer want in good condition. Or some kind hearts offer their surplus. This alternative presents one vision of a more caring world.


The Diggers, a guerrilla street theater group of the 1960s, established this tradition at San Francisco called giveaway shops. Perhaps combine a free shop with other forms of solidarity to make a Mutual Aid Spot (#MAS) - like a little free library, community fridge, or a food and flower garden right outside. Bonus points if you provide air conditioning.


You don’t have to answer questions. The swap shops need no papers or ID, and you take what you need. Even though most goods were secondhand, free stores established an exchange model outside of this oppressive wage-labor system.


They turn no one away. Some critics say that a few people will just take everything, but most folks usually take a handful with what they need most. Furthermore, there is no litmus test to receive services.


Networks of anarchists, radicals, and abolitionists continue this work today in a plethora of ways. Free stores may also provide other services such as primary medical care, community childcare, or life skill classes.


Unfortunately, the pandemic shuttered both Nashville, TN and Birmingham, AL, but the Chattanooga Free Store goes strong. As always, more volunteers, donations, and locations are needed.


Beyond their weekly, local vendor market, Cosecha Community Development offers a free clothing swap, too. This is what community looks like!


"The Free General Store Pittsburg, California, is one of the poorest communities in its county. Many people here lack nourishing food, warm clothing, and shelter over their heads.


An energetic new nonprofit, the White Pony Express, started by Dr. Carol Weyland Conner, gathers food and clothing from those who have a surplus and delivers it free to those who need it, and seeks new ways to offer shelter. The White Pony Express program flows from a belief in the unity of life; by sharing abundance, the goal “prosperity for all” is within reach!


One arm of the program, the Free General Store, offers free clothing and items that these adults and children need but can’t afford. This touching film takes us to the Store’s first “Mobile Free Boutique”, staged in the Pittsburg United Methodist Church, which welcomed the event with open arms.


Several hundred volunteers worked tirelessly for months to put on this Boutique. Here we see Pittsburg women and men joyfully “shopping” for free clothing. We see trained wardrobe consultants helping shoppers pick out pleasing outfits. And we see children happily selecting free clothing, fun toys, and good books.


About one third of these guests have no shelter. They live under bridges, in a nearby forest, and near the trail that goes by the church. But on this special day, it is clear that someone cares about them. In this setting, barriers between volunteers and guests dissolve – bringing feelings of equality, respect, mutual appreciation, and love.


Dr. Conner is the spiritual director of Sufism Reoriented, an American faith community that strives to work in harmony with all religions and affirms the central core of divine love at the heart of all spiritual traditions."


First Published at Cultured

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