In an effort to support those impacted by food insecurity, houselessness, job loss, and more, free stores have been erected throughout North Brooklyn. The guerrilla-style pop-ups, which began as a mutual aid initiative in October, are maintained by community volunteers and provide necessities including food, clothes, games, household toiletries, and more items, all donated by neighbors, free of charge.
The North Brooklyn Free Store initiative was founded by Myles Smutney, in conjunction with North Brooklyn Mutual Aid, to provide resources and material support to neighbors in need via a “take what you need, give what you can” ethos. As the pandemic continued impacting Brooklyn, Smutney was particularly inspired by a similar community project in Chicago started by Illinois Humanities and the Rebuild Foundation.
“I love New York, and it’s always been like a giant free box to me; a treasure trove of excess amplified by the pandemic exodus. I wanted to bring people, goods, and materials together and create a place to encourage sharing and a system of connectivity and neighborly love,” Smutney said.
Where to Find North Brooklyn Free Stores
Free stores can be found at 150 Greenpoint Avenue, the corner of Newton and Graham Streets, South 2nd Street between Marcy and Havemeyer Avenues, and 101 Maujer Street (P.S. 18), where they’re maintained by local volunteers, including Kristin Sears, whose son attends P.S. 18. As a follower of the NBK Free Store movement since its inception, she admittedly jumped at the opportunity to pitch the school’s location as a pop-up site and has loved being able to contribute.
“My favorite part of volunteering is being able to chat with members of the community while tidying up the store; more than a few neighbors have commented what a wonderful addition the free store is to the neighborhood,” Sears said. “Also, seeing the students at P.S. 18 get a firsthand view of the positive role volunteerism and community service plays in these not-so-great times has been truly amazing.”
While volunteers like Sears work to monitor and attend to the free stores daily, anyone is encouraged to help out by actively engaging in the sites — including dropping off new or gently loved items, utilizing hangers and cabinets when delivering donations, and maintaining a clean, organized, and positive space for the community to come together.
Sites are open 24/7 and consistently in need of home goods, art and school supplies, diapers, sealed canned and dry food (no Goya products), diapers, new or unopened toiletries, winter necessities, clothing, books, and toys. Donors are discouraged from dropping off furniture or bigger items to maintain accessibility of the sites.
In the future, Smutney would like to see the free store movement continue to expand, and is currently crafting a series of how-to videos and easy-to-follow blueprints for people seeking guidance on erecting their own. For those who are interested in starting similar initiatives in other neighborhoods or boroughs, Smutney’s biggest tip is to have heart (and help).
“One thing I can promise is that if you build it, they will come; that means support — givers, takers, and helpers. You’ve just got to do it and start small,” Smutney advised. “Partner with a business or property owner that will support what you’re doing … If they don’t, just go rogue somewhere.”
Other mutual aid efforts in the area include community fridges, the North Brooklyn Device Drive, and North Brooklyn Essentials, to name a few. For more information on becoming a part of or contributing to the North Brooklyn Mutual Aid collective and its various initiatives, head to northbrooklynmutualaid.org.
To get more involved with the North Brooklyn Free Stores and see the latest updates, visit the initiative’s Instagram account (with resources for volunteering at the link in bio).