The Free Shop
We run a clothes shop where everything is for free.
It's in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, and most of our customers, 95%, are Syrian refugees. The other 5% are local Lebanese families and Palestinan refugees. We give customers plastic tokens to spend, instead of money. The items we "sell" include clothes, shoes, new underwear, socks, baby bottles, diapers, menstrual pads, sheets, blankets and accessories like hats and belts. It is a physical space, laid out like a real shop, and families browse for the donations they need and like. The Free Shop is run day-to-day by five Syrian refugees, and supported by our trustees who source funding and clothes.
We also have two smaller activities. One is providing sustainable period pads along with information to Syrian women. This is done in partnership with Pachamama Project. We also assist with individual cases through our grant policy, for example paying for a doctor in an emergency or buying a food pack for a family desperately in need.
We are the only organisation in Lebanon providing year-round physical aid distributions to Syrian refugees with freedom of choice.
We exist to fill a gap in physcial aid distribution in Lebanon. Other charities will run distributions year-round, but families cannot choose the items they need. Some organisations will create a pop-up "shop", like ours, for a day or a week if they receive a large amount of donations. Our shop is also very connected to the community: it is ran by Syrian refugees, so we are giving local jobs whilst supporting refugees to maintain skilled work. We now hire five staff but expect it to grow steadily.
You see families whose children share shoes because the parents can afford enough. Many adults wear the same outfits everyday. Winter is the main time for aid distributions in Lebanon, but the situtation in the country is so difficult that this service -the giving of free aid- should be done all year round. In Lebanon, more than half the population live under the poverty line, reported by UNICEF in July 2021. Even only in Beirut, almost 1 million people cannot afford basic items, including food. It is likely you heard about the Beirut explosion, which left many people homeless. We'd been working for one month before the explosion, and the situation since has just been getting worse and worse. With the fall of the Lebanese pound, inflation is sky-high and even middle class families can't afford items such as menstrual pads and baby milk.
Although the concept of a free shop is not new, the atmosphere and the way that we run our shop is a new concept in Lebanon. Our postivie impact can be felt because we really care about making the process of receiving aid donations a positive experience, and families actually enjoy coming to us to choose items. We are changing the way aid distributions for refugees are done, just by treating people with true respect and dignity.