WICKER PARK — A push to shop at small businesses on Saturday brought a unique experience to 50 needy folks, many of them homeless, who shopped for new winter clothes and accessories at a "pop-up store" in Wicker Park.
"We want low-income and homeless folks to have a chance to shop too," said Katy Travelstead, organizer of Be Nice Chicago, a grassroots group that put together a Chicago edition of The Street Store inside the Wicker Park Field House, 1425 N. Damen Ave., on Saturday.
Founded last January in South Africa, The Street Store is a worldwide movement that organizes free pop-up clothing stores for the poor, usually on streets.
"I'm really grateful. I will have replacement gym shoes," said John Whitehead, a 38-year-old homeless man who bought a gently-used pair of sneakers to replace his only pair, which has worn rubber soles and tears where water leaks through.
Whitehead used one of his five raffle tickets, each good for the purchase of one item of clothing or an accessory, to buy the shoes.
Tandem Rodriguez, a 59-year-old homeless man, bought a new heavy winter jacket and backpack.
Travelstead, a 31-year-old stay-at-home mom to two children, started Be Nice Chicago about a year ago when her daughter drew the phrase "Be Nice" into the sidewalk.
The simple message of "being nice" inspired Travelstead, a Ukrainian Village resident, to try and spread the message through events such as The Street Store, which was the group's second outreach effort. In October, Be Nice Chicago participated in NAMI's Suicide Prevention walk in Glenview.
In addition to Travelstead and her husband Jacob Kearney, about 12 volunteers helped to run Saturday's four-hour-long Street Store, where shoppers looked through several tables of about 1,000 pieces of donated clothing, carefully folded and arranged by sizes.
The Street Store was advertised through The Night Ministry, a nonprofit group which makes two weekly bus stops in Wicker Park, providing mobile medical services and meals.
Local businesses including Pint, Club Lucky and Subterranean donated money to rent out the field house out for the afternoon, as well as food, which included pastries from Sweet Cheeks Bakery, 856 N. Ashland. Ave.
Metamorph Tattoo Studios, 1456 N. Milwaukee Ave, collected donations from workers and clients for the past month and was able to donate 20 brand new High Sierra backpacks to the store.
"The backpacks were a huge hit with our customers," Travelstead said.
After the event, the leftover clothing was donated to a building for low-income Wicker Park seniors across from the park and to The Night Ministry's West Town youth shelter, Travelstead said.
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