(by Amy McNeal) So many of us have too much stuff. We continue to buy more stuff, while looking for ways to pack the maybe-I’ll-need-it-someday stuff we have into our homes. Who wants to throw away a perfectly good blender, or those old sheets for the bed you got rid of? We hesitate to just trash our old things, because we’d prefer to give them to someone who can use them. If this is the boat you’re in, the Baltimore Free Store is your answer. With a mission statement that combines both social justice and environmental awareness, the Baltimore Free Store seeks to get goods into the hands of those who need them while keeping them out of landfills.
Located in a challenged neighborhood in West Baltimore, the storefront of the Baltimore Free Store is no frills. Hand written signs announce its presence in an un-rehabbed storefront. Once inside, numerous friendly volunteers are waiting to take your donated goods, or help you find what you need. On a recent Saturday afternoon, the store was crowded with shoppers looking for back to school clothes and books. The store carries a variety of household and personal goods, but no furniture. Books, clothes, household goods and extras are sorted neatly into easily shopped sections, just like your typical thrift store. The only major difference : no price tags, no cash register. Everything inside is free for the taking.
The Baltimore Free Store was launched in 2002 by a group of local college students. The first Free Store was held as an event in the basement of a Towson church. Several more Free Store events were held in 2003. The organization decided to pursue the goal of operating a self sustaining, regularly accessible store in a permanent location in 2004. After trying out several rented locations, the Free Store moved to donated warehouse space in Highlandtown. Continued growth and change led to the establishment of the Free Store in a permanent storefront location in 2010, in West Baltimore.
Volunteer Coordinator Bonnie Nordvedt became involved with the Baltimore Free Store after realizing her own consumption was more than it should be. She believes in and promotes the Free Store’s motto, listed on the wall by the entryway: “Give instead of hoard, reuse instead of trash, involve instead of ignore.”
The Free Store is staffed entirely by volunteers, a mix of young college students and older local women. The Baltimore Free Store seeks to continue its mission of social justice by providing the things less fortunate neighborhoods need. Recently, there’s been a huge call for linens as people combat the growing bedbug problem. School supplies are particularly welcomed in September. During the December holiday season, the Free Store makes every effort to provide toys, clothes and other gifts for local underprivileged children.
In addition to working with the underprivileged, The Baltimore Free Store is promoting environmental responsibility by urging people to reuse and recycle. The store boasts an impressive stock of books, clothing and decorative things that will satisfy any thrift shopper. It’s also popular with artists looking for materials to use in mixed media projects.
The Baltimore Free Store is located at 1413 West Baltimore Street. It’s open most Saturdays for shopping and donations. Hours of operation and donation needs are listed on the website, www.freestorebaltimore.org.