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The story of our Free Community Shop/Help Centre, open 24 hours every day January to May 2018
Each year, Dennis Stevenson borrows an empty shop (in 2016, 2017 and 2018 at Ocean Shores, NSW) a week before Christmas, to give away thousands of new presents to help see no one goes without.
After Christmas 2017, to continue the spirit, he took hundreds of items to the huge community shed in Banner park, beside lovely Brunswick Heads river NSW, opposite the Hotel.
15,000 Free items (Dennis says love isn’t conditional, so everyone is welcome to take things)
Into its 5th month, open 24 hours every day, over 15,000 absolutely free items, hundreds new, were given away - probably a world's first, demonstrating how well we can build communities to take care of each other. Also, surf skis & boards, kids table/chairs and slippery dip were put out daily in the park FREE TO USE (not to take home).
The shed transformed
A dirty, dingy and unhygienic space, not cleaned for months, used for drugs, excessive drinking & living/storing things in, that many people wouldn’t enter, was transformed with love & daily cleaning (+ high pressure water and vac blower) to be a safe, vibrant, family friendly space that hundreds more people were visiting and enjoying.
Dozens of benefits
People inspired to help each other. New friends. Many new or quality items. Real books, games, toybox etc for kids (a rest for mum). Garage sale items & things left in parks/beaches collected, washed & recycled. Decluttering. Free food, hugs, counselling and a friendly ear. Homeless got shoes/warm clothes/bedding and camping gear. A true community hub!
Who closed our community help centre?
On Wednesday 9 May, 2018, a Crown Lands Holiday Parks employee phoned me and ordered our shop closed within 48 hours. I'm sure that with communication, good will and with people’s interests and the shop’s fabulous community support uppermost, any concern that a few times there may not have been enough tables for picnickers, could have been easily resolved. Of 17 tables in the park, we normally used 2 or 3 of the 8 inside the shed. With thousands homeless and most people in debt, families were getting valuable help not only to survive but also to feel loved.
The following Monday I was there from 5.30am high pressure cleaning, tidying and putting more gifts out. An hour or two after I left I was texted a photo of an empty shed, saying everything had been removed. Perhaps when it's acknowledged that public areas belong to the community, this will resolve such issues. However, we've certainly demonstrated the amazing help we can all give when we join together and share. A new 24 hour shop is planned to open early 2019!!! If you would like to run one in your region, contact me for a chat.
Some of the thousands of comments
● My 8 & 9 year old walk in here and see a completely different approach to how the world could be. Thank you! Amielia+Luca+Maya. ● The energy is completely transformed in this space.The vibration is lifted-Olivia. ● Love & light to all you beautiful & incredible souls. ● I love this! I wish it was like this everywhere, bless your heart. ● There is no greater leadership in this world than one who gives. ● This needs to be taught throughout the world.● I found many useful treasures for myself and kids that would never have happened otherwise. James. ● SO inspirational, giving and helping the homeless. Bless, Jade. ● I'm living without money, about to migrate to Canberra's Aboriginal embassy. I was afraid of the cold but found a warm t-shirt.Thankyou! ● This place looks really clean.Thanks so much. ● More than just a gesture. A man with infinite vision. World bless, Ricardo, Brazil. ● A beautiful soul giving & trusting︎. ● I got a sleeping bag for my homeless dad. ● I’m 12.I love your shop. Keep changing the world step by step.●Doing a fantastic service to the community. ● Amazing project. I’ll drop stuff off soon. ● You’re an inspiration–paying it forward. ● Dennis, the world needs more of you. Makes my heart smile, Jahlane. ● Should be done all over Aussie. Willemina. ● Fantastic idea. ● Brightened my day. ● Beautiful. ● Super Inspiring. ● Awesome! And: Love from France, Brazil, California, Spain, England, Canada, Poland, Italy and “Maybe I could start one in Germany”.
"Giving isn't just the fastest way to change ourselves and our world. It's the only way." Dennis shares many ways to live for free. He offers free coaching/talks/workshops for people, communities and businesses.
Our abundance is via hundreds of practical ways to love and support each other without limit: growing free food, offering accommodation and building homes, giving clothes and things for free (like our Brunswick shop), teaching health, yoga and many practical life skills (that we planned to run in the shed), giving the elderly a hand and offering many services, workshops etc – all for free. I'm happy to share methods on how we can do all this and more. The book 'Ubuntu' by Michael Tellinger covers this beautifully. Love, Dennis.
Tips on running a Free Shop for a week at Christmas
This is how to run a Spirit of Christmas Shop. Just my suggestions and though not written in stone, they consistently work in my shops. The point I see as most important is that I never charge and don't take any money donations in the shops. It's all about love. If you find good ideas, please let me know.
Everything starts with your decision to make it happen. If it excites you to have a shop in your area, just do it. Once you make the decision, you may be surprised when everything falls into place.
I use love to create the shops with no money, just people's generosity. The videos of previous shops show the great results from doing that.
You’ll be very effective if all tasks are covered, e.g., different helpers in charge of finding a shop, making it look great, insurance, media, rostering (to organise helpers), collecting gifts, cleaning etc. It helps if these volunteers have a list of Things to do. It’s very easy when tasks are known and shared. In past years I did most things myself. That’s not so bright. In 2012 I had a team of over 50 helpers! Wow!
People welcome the chance to do a shift or two (say 2 or 3 hours a shift). Having two or three helpers always in the shop works well. Write a simple page to give helpers, listing what they need to know. When shop visitors offer to help, ask them to contact whoever is organising your shop roster.
Getting a shop
Contact the shop owner personally if you can, or via the leasing agent. You could show them your News Release or a simple written plan.
You need space to secure valuables, store and sort gifts coming in (expect hundreds daily) and perhaps a change room. Separate anything that's not new to be removed nightly. Instead of giving to Op Shops who sell things, why not find a group or church that gives directly to needy people?
Lots of free parking is great. We don’t want anyone booked, do we? I opened my first shop for 3 days. 2010 was 5 days, 2011 was 6 days and 2012 was 8 days. 2016 was 3 days.
Ask cleaners to help, both before you open and after Christmas Eve. Get a handyman in case anything in the shop needs fixing. Rather than day volunteers doing too much, have a roster for after hour cleaners and creative re-stockers.
Getting presents to give away
In any neighbourhood there will be thousands of ‘new' items in people’s homes which they’d love to give as gifts. I've said "If people only brought in last year's unused presents, I could fill a dozen shops."
Collect door to door, at garage and car boot sales, community groups, houses and flats, markets, etc. Ask organisations, individuals, groups and clubs to have a ‘collectathon’ of new gifts, especially among work mates. Include gifts of free services. Many people have little money and would love a gift of carpet cleaning, massage, a restaurant meal, mowing etc. I keep these vouchers aside to give to people who really need them. I never pressure anyone to give and really appreciate any new gift, no matter how small.
Letting people know
Get a free email list for all regional radio, TV and papers - in electronic form. 'ourcommunity.com.au' has free lists of Australian media, state by state, though they may not be up to date. Drop a News Release to all local shops to display in their window. My News Release shows how to write one.
You could get a well known and respected local person to be your Patron.
Living in Honour
My shops always look better when I leave than before. I’ve removed old window signs, painted or touched up cupboards and walls, had floor tiles scrubbed etc. I don’t promise it. I just do it.
Some people see our gifts in our shop window or on TV reports and ask us to hold them, saying they or their friend really ned them. I prefer gifts to only be available during open hours and not held. If they say they have no transport, suggest they have a friend bring them.
With major gifts, like our new kayak, pushbike, huge hamper, exerciser, $300 food voucher etc, rather than the first person taking them, I run a free daily raffle. Anyone can enter on the day with their name and phone number. The winner is drawn at 5.45pm. Then I have fun phoning them.
Some shop helpers may ask if they can take gifts or put them away to take later. I believe it’s best to not do this but to honour the spirit of the givers. The benefit to shop helpers is helping, not selecting gifts for themselves or friends. If they’re hard up but have a good heart, find someone to give them a hand or suggest they contact me after Christmas and I’ll help them become more abundant in their lives.
You may think some visitors are greedy. I feel it's not always that simple. It can often be other issues, such as being afraid they wont have enough in their life to survive properly. I’ve thought about this a lot. It feels right to me to just allow people to take whatever they wish, without my judging their behaviour. I prefer to give openly without condition and without limit. That’s how I live my life, following my passion or intuition (inner-teaching). I like to trust that people will take only what they need. Isn’t such unconditional love the true Christmas Spirit?
I’ve had free Public Liability insurance for each shop, usually for $10 or $20 million. I ask, and lovely business people help. No one has ever made a claim.
Someone mistook our shop music player as a gift, so keep such items away and clearly labelled with a sign. Best if helpers don’t leave any valuables, mobiles, iPads, keys, purses, etc., unsecured even for a moment. This isn’t about lovely folk who give or receive gifts, just the rare opportunistic thief.
It’s handy to have one person to open and secure the shop each day. Have 2 key sets. Perhaps leave the spare at a nearby 24 hour shop or service station.
The Gopher (Go for this, Go for that)
This is a key team member on stand-by with a larger vehicle to pick up tables, large gifts and do errands. Some people love to give but have no way to deliver them. Arrange storage for things until open day.
Recording the Event
Opening a Spirit of Christmas shop is wonderful. Take lots of still or video pictures for a ‘Spirit of Christmas (your area) Story’. I made the 2011 slide show (see Home page) with Apple’s iPhoto and I’m a novice.
Your chattiest person can talk to media. They could also write and issue any News Release and collect copies of any stories in the media.
Every time you sort out a problem, scribble a note for your 'Shop Tips' for the following year. Please email me a copy.
Why not arrange a 'get together' after the shop closes? Early on, set a date and place. Then put a note of this in the written information to helpers. Then you won’t need to recontact them. Who knows, out of this might come other community building activities – and new friends.
Have a lovely, hard cover journal visible for visitors to leave comments. Kids love to scribble, so keep it high.
If you have questions that a careful reading of all pages on this website don’t fully cover, please contact me.
When it’s all over, it’s nice to thank everyone by letter so keep a note of names and full contact details for everyone who helps. Gift givers are best thanked at the time.
You’ll have a heartfelt and special Christmas, not about material things, but what Christmas really means; loving each other.
On behalf of all those who would otherwise not have presents to give to their loved ones at Christmas,
Thank you for your kind heart and generosity!