Community members band together to transform the Civic Media Center into a pop-up shop that provides free items.
Carried by the November breeze, the scent of fresh vegetable soup wafts through the threshold of the Civic Media Center. Inside, clothing, shoes, books, toiletries and toys spill from heaping stacks set on tables. People sift through the piles, eyeing garments and carefully refolding what they move as they scoot white plastic bags behind them.
Kaith Hernandez, 23, one of the library’s coordinators, beams at each new visitor. “Take anything you need,” they say.
The pop-up event known as Free Store transforms the Civic Media Center into a thrift shop on the third Saturday of each month. Between 2 and 5 p.m., anyone is welcome to gather from the stock of secondhand items and leave without spending a cent.
Free Store was a project founded in 2014 by Trans Affairs, a community support group based at the now-closed feminist bookstore, Wild Iris. The goal was to provide items such as chest binders, breast forms, makeup and clothing for free to trans and nonbinary people in need.
“It was originally started by folks in the trans and queer community, locally, to try and get resources for trans and queer folks,” said Logan Marie Glitterbomb, 26, a Free Store organizer. “But it was always open to everyone.”
Trans Affairs at Wild Iris ran the project for about three years through donations and contributions from events, such as Queer the Fest and fundraising by the University of Florida’s Pride Student Union. Then Wild Iris closed its doors in December 2017.
Some leftover items were donated to a group that aids people who have recently been released from prison. Most remained in storage. In June 2018, Gainesville’s chapter of Redneck Revolt, a national organization dedicated to anti-racism and liberation of the working class, hosted their first Free Store at the CMC. Since then, the organization has maintained the store. The group uses its membership funds and monetary donations to cover the cost of the storage space. Volunteers haul the items to and from the storage space as needed.
Glitterbomb, who volunteered with the Wild Iris crew, is one of the founding members of Gainesville’s chapter of Redneck Revolt. She banded with her peers to revive Free Store, who figured it was the perfect project for the Gainesville Redneck Revolt to take on because it aligned with their mission. The purpose of Redneck Revolt on national and local levels is community defense and combating racism, capitalism and fascism, according to its website.
“I started out going to Free Store, and ya know, still, I’m broke,” Glitterbomb said, gesturing at her grey fitted coat and floor-skimming skirt. “Most of the shit that I wear is from here. You always find cool stuff.”
“It’s also cool because if you see something and you’re not sure if you like it, you take it anyways, you try it out, you don’t like it, you bring it back,” she added.
Since he heard about Free Store from a high school friend five years ago, local musician Edward Dinardo, 23, has been a repeat visitor at the event. His favorite finds include a wooden recorder, an alternative comic book entitled “Kill Your Boyfriend” and some of his most prized T-shirts. But for Dinardo, the best part about the store is the environment.
“It is set in areas that are pleasant, accepting and non-judgmental so you are always greeted by a sunny staff of volunteers,” he said.
Those who would like to donate items to Free Store can drop them off at the Civic Media Center any time before noon on the day of the event, when set-up begins. Certain high-demand items are always helpful, such as menstrual products, toiletries, socks, boxers, makeup, plus-size clothing, chest binders, breast forms, home items and blankets. The Revolt is also accepting donations of sturdy clothes racks to alleviate space for other items.
“If people want to donate money, that would help us run more long term,” Glitterbomb said. “We pay for the storage space out of pocket through our membership and most of us are pretty broke.”
Those who would like to donate money are urged to message Redneck Revolt on Facebook or visit during Free Store.
“When we are here for one another, it always results in abundance,” Hernandez said. “The people win. The landfills win. It’s a win-win situation whatever way you look at it.” •