Go to a corner store and try to stock a bathroom with toiletries all at once. Add camping gear and an emergency kit.
It could cost you quite a bit.
Homeless and low-income folks often don’t have the money to spend on these items, and usually must limit how much space their items take up. Belongings are often stolen, lost or damaged by day-to-day life on the street, or confiscated by Public Works crews when encampments are swept away.
Enter the Tenderloin’s GLIDE Memorial Church’s GLIDE Goods program, a pop-up store that launched in May to distribute these goods, most as sample sizes, free of charge.
Staff and volunteers in GLIDE’s walk-in center used to pass out hygiene kits, but had too many other things to focus on like case management and human services.
In GLIDE’s Freedom Hall at 330 Ellis St., above the basement-level kitchen where the organization serves more than 2,100 meals a day, the new pop-up shop allows one staff member and two volunteers to spend time with each customer, describing the offerings and getting personal with the regulars.
“We’ve had people come in who have a job interview or have to get a job the next day. It just gets them through when their funds run out at the end of the month,” GLIDE’s clinical director Kenneth Kim said.
Cindy McGovern started volunteering at GLIDE when the pop-up first started. She is there each Monday night and Tuesday morning, learning the customer’s names and trying to make them laugh and feel welcome, she said.
Not many people know about the pop-up yet, but those who visit are of many backgrounds and ages. “It’s from 16 to 65,” she said. “Most of the people are waiting for a bed.”
Anyone can line up at the GLIDE Goods counter to choose items from a picture book called the shop’s “item quilt.”
The most popular items are socks, soap, shampoo and toothbrushes. The pop-up also stocks sunscreen, tampons, condoms, deodorant, first aid kits, combs, hair picks and emergency blankets, among other items.
“Everybody who’s homeless needs clean socks,” she said. McGovern now lives in an SRO nearby but was homeless for years, living in a field in Fresno before moving to San Francisco to enroll in the Harbor Light detox program.
The pop-up doesn’t get very busy because it’s still so new, so McGovern sometimes walks outside “to go get someone.” She invites the people inside where the volunteers record their information for GLIDE demographics and give them the hygiene supplies they need.
“I wish I had a line around the corner,” McGovern said.
The new GLIDE Goods pop-up is open Monday from 6 to 8 p.m. during the Syringe Access program, which is open 7 to 9 p.m. It’s also open on Tuesdays from 9 to 11 a.m. and Wednesdays 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Starting in July, the pop-up will be open on Fridays from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m.
“We don’t give out used items, only new donations,” Kim said. GLIDE raised the money through a fundraising campaign on Roonga, a crowdfunding platform for nonprofits needing to purchase specific supplies. “It’s not helpful when people come by and drop off things. … It can put us in a bind as we figure out space.”
Through monetary donations, GLIDE is able to maintain consistent offerings like a corner store would. The pop-up emphasizes giving choice to the customers.
“These little items create an opportunity for conversation,” Kim said, like when one customer needed lotion for his painfully dry feet and was referred to GLIDE’s health clinic upstairs.
Despite GLIDE’s origins as a church organization, its pop-up and other programs do not involve preaching or exclude anyone based on religion.
“Being inclusive and radically inclusive, people come in whatever shape or form they come in. There’s no religious affiliation with any of our services. Depending on how a person wants to pursue their recovery, they have options,” Kim said.