By Erica Howes (published 26 June 2018)
2018 Big Give 1On June 2, St. Albans, St-Bernard-de-Clairvaux, and Centre 454 opened their courtyard gates and hosted the Big Give, a garage sale where everything is free.
Tables and boxes were sorted and filled with kitchen supplies, household decorations, children’s toys, clothing and furniture. Many people were incredulous or skeptical when volunteers said everything is free and repeated the motto of the Big Give: “take what you need.” There’s no judgement or catch, it’s simply a day of radical generosity.
They say one person’s junk is another person’s treasure and it was true at the Big Give, where many interesting objects had people guessing at their hidden stories and wondering how they could fit into their own homes.
“Some of us have difficult lives of no fault of their own. Today is a chance for those of us who have been lucky to make a little bit of a difference of those who haven’t,” said St. Albans volunteer Gillian Wallace, explaining that many people at the Big Give live in shelters or have recently got housing.
Jack was walking around the event, holding only a lanyard and a hot dog. He has been living in a shelter for the past few months after dealing with health issues. Jack talked about the isolation of being homeless and how there’s “not a lot of experiences that feel like you’re part of the community.” He put his locker key on the lanyard and said when he gets his first apartment he’s going to put his real key on there and remember this event.
Looking around and enjoying lunch and music together, he said it’s good “to feel part of something.”
The children’s table was piled with intricate puzzles of city scapes, a giant yellow duck pinata and a set of Harry Potter paraphernalia including a themed light switch cover, witch hat and wand.
There was a genie lamp, gold and orange with patterned curved designs stretching across its surface. There was a poster of a transit map, large canvases of abstract paint designs and dozens of baskets of every colour and size. A Homer Simpson lamp was a hot item, igniting a bargaining war.
Taylor Holmes, the lead organizer of the event, said it’s often the items on the decorative table that go the fastest to help make someone’s space more personal.
“It’s not always about the necessities. Sometimes that small, seemingly insignificant item can bring someone real joy.”
Making a house into a home
At last year’s Big Give event, Taylor said there was a yoga mat she was skeptical anyone would pick up. Where would people do yoga and would you use a second-hand mat?
Much to Taylor’s surprise, a female client of Centre 454 eagerly picked it up. Along with the rest of the items she’d collected from the Big Give, Taylor and her husband drove the client home. Previously living on the street, the woman had only recently moved in to a one bedroom apartment, and it wasn’t until they got to the apartment that Taylor realized there was nothing there. The woman was planning to use the yoga mat as a bed.
“She just saw something that was better than the floor. She didn’t have a bed yet and it made us check our assumptions,” said Taylor, adding it was an important reminder that just because someone has housing, it doesn’t mean they have everything they need.
“They have nothing except what they’ve been trying to carry with them,” Taylor said. “She had a one bedroom apartment and she was so thrilled but she had nothing to fill it with. It made her sad to walk into an empty apartment. It was another reminder that she doesn’t have very much.”
That’s the difference the furniture, decorations, and kitchen items handed out at the Big Give make – they help make someone’s space feel like home.