Nothing in life is free. Unless you go to the Civic Media Center every third Saturday of the month, that is. From 2 to 5 p.m. on any given Saturday, people are welcome to peruse clothing, household goods and personal care items available free of charge.
This gathering, appropriately known as Free Store, was conceived by activists at the former Wild Iris Bookstore in 2014 after seeing the material needs of the working-class queer and transgender communities.
Free Store organizer, J. Smith, 48, said significant portions of these populations end up living marginally and face homelessness due to discrimination in employment and housing.
According to its Facebook page, the Gainesville Free Store is linked to far-left and anti-fascist group Redneck Revolt. The Alligator is withholding Smith’s first name due to concern for his personal safety as a result of potentially violent opposition.
“Because the trans movement has been so successful in many ways and more people feel at least somewhat comfortable being out, there’s a huge reaction,” Smith said. “It is actually fully legal to discriminate against trans people.”
According to Smith, some companies will choose not to employ a qualified queer or transgender individual, claiming such a lifestyle goes against the company’s religious beliefs.
“People wanted to do something that was a grassroots effort to address this need that came from the community itself,” Smith said.
Smith emphasized the Free Store is an act of solidarity, not charity.
“[It’s] not handing something down from above, but sharing what we have amongst ourselves,” he said.
A volunteer at the store attested to that sentiment, saying she also attends Free Store regularly and needs the resources it provides.
Although Free Store originated as a resource for those within the LGBTQ+ community, its doors are open to anyone.
“I’ve seen people bring things to donate and walk through and bring items to take home with them,” Smith said. “Come and get free stuff; that’s fine, too.”
Free Store runs off donations from those in the community. The organizers said they’re “thrilled” with the amount of clothes they’ve received, and they currently are in need of household goods and clean, unused personal care items.
You can drop the donations off at the Civic Media Center, 433 S. Main St., on the third Saturday of every month from noon to 2 p.m.
All information on how to donate, volunteer or attend Free Store can be located on its Facebook page.