Shopping is a simple act of reciprocity – you pull a wrinkled, $20 bill out of your pocket and hand it to the cashier, and she gives back your change and your item – yet its mundanity is surprisingly humanizing.
For the past 10 months local high school students Dylan Edwards, Sarah Kouchak and Macy Thompson have kept in mind the power of these banal acts as they have worked as part of the group “SCV Urge.”
“We raise awareness about the homeless issue because many people don’t really know about it,” said Kouchak.
“We don’t like how it’s basically just hidden in the river wash” added Thompson, a Hart senior. “Our whole thing is bringing dignity to them, because there are organizations here that take care of them but sometimes it’s not in the best way.”
And shopping, they all agreed, was a crucial way through which the homeless community could feel normal once again.
On Saturday- with the help of Family Promise, Bridge to Home, SCV Urge, Single Mothers Outreach and countless other high school volunteers – the trio set up a “mock store” near Cinema Drive where homeless people could come in and shop for donated goods.
The group wanted the experience to feel as much like a high-end department store as possible.
“We don’t like how at clothing shelters there’s clothes just hanging in baskets,” said Thompson. “So we spent the past few days setting this up, sorting through everything so it could go on the racks and everything.”
The main challenge, said Edwards, was procuring all of the donated items.
“The community really delivered,” he said. “We started a [donation] campaign online with social media and GoFundMe. We also did canvassing, we had like a bunch of people just go to houses all over the valley asking for donations.”
The trio began the process in February, and their effort netted hundreds of donated clothes, toys, household items and even a few thousand rolls of toilet paper.
During this period, they also found time to secure donations for Family Promise’s Motel Voucher Program.
They presented the organization with a check on Saturday outside their makeshift store.
“Today we’re donating $3,500 to Family Promise,” Edwards said, “in order to restart the Motel Voucher Program so that families in need of emergency shelter can go to Family Promise.”
A family promise representative explained that the donation would allow them to house families who have been living in a vehicle, or in tents alongside the Santa Clara river wash, for a few days.
Saturday was the culmination of the high schoolers months of hard work which, they admitted, was sometimes trying.
“It’s been stressful but it’s not for us,” said Thompson. “It’s for them.’
Any semblance of stress was quickly mitigated by the smiles of children and the relieved countenances of their parents – many of whom could not afford Christmas this year.
As they toured patrons through the organized chaos of their store, they recalled their favorite anecdotes of the day.
“I remember there was this one little girl that ran into there,” said Edwards, pointing into a room filled with toys, “and she was like ‘how many things can I get?’
“And when we said ‘there’s a seven limit minimum’ she just said ‘oh my god this is the best day ever.’
“There was this one girl,” Kouchak recalled, “and she really liked purple but she didn’t have any purple clothes.”
“So we found her seven purple jackets and she just said, ‘wow – so this is Christmas.’”