Store helps homeless, low-income folks stay warm in cold world
One day in 2015 on a Max train, Jim Anderson noticed a woman giving her daughter her gloves.
“Her daughter would turn around and rub Mom’s hands to help keep her mom’s hands warm,” he says. “That really upset me, as we live in a very rich country.”
Watching the mother and child share a pair of gloves set Anderson’s mind on helping those who can’t afford clothes. He and his wife, Kim, as well as several family members, decided to organize monthly donated clothing giveaways at Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Southeast Portland.
“We put the word out via social media that we were hosting these events,” he says. “We’d have anywhere from 100 to 300 people at a time. We grew and went to a bigger church, Living Hope Baptist on 148th and Powell (now home to Eastside Imago Dei Community).”
In time Anderson and his volunteers realized they needed a place to call their own, and decided to open Anniebugs Attic Thrift Store, 11034 NE Sandy Blvd, in August 2019. The store bears the nickname of the mother of his business partner Aaron Wright, a bar owner who used to host fundraisers for the donated clothing giveaways.
Anderson staffs Anniebugs along with one other employee as well as two volunteers. Occasionally, other volunteers come in the store to help, including two area students with special needs, Anderson says. Like everyone these days, he says it’s been harder getting volunteers during the Covid pandemic lockdowns, and he adds that he’s always looking for extra help.
The store has also set up a foundation to channel college scholarship funds to people looking for a second chance in life.
“It’s mainly set up for those down on their luck trying to better themselves,” Anderson says.
At their service
Patrons of Anniebugs can buy clothes, but if they’re in need, the store will give people five free items every other week.
“If they need to try on the clothes, we do offer a fitting room. No need to fill out any paperwork,” Anderson says. “We do ask for their first name, and then the first initial of their last name.”
Anderson says he learned not to erect barriers to people needing help by asking for proof of income or other questions. If someone says they need something, he trusts that they are telling him the truth and would rather do that than subject them to the kind of intense scrutiny of finances low-income people sometimes undergo when dealing with other social service agencies.
“We don’t have the government telling us what to do or not,” he says. “That’s too much red tape.”
Most of those seeking free clothes are homeless, he says. Many have lost their clothes and/or backpacks to theft or bad weather.
“You name it, it’s happened to these people out there,” he says.
He notes that people living on the streets often come in the shop hoping to find coats, socks, and blankets – many would love to have a sleeping bag, he adds.
The store could always use more donations of men’s clothing, particularly jeans and shirts, he says. Men tend to wear their clothes till their items are threadbare, he says, so donations of used men’s clothing tend to be fewer in number than those donated by women.
Anniebugs Attic can draw up to as many as 200 customers a week, Anderson says, estimating the store gives free clothes to anywhere between 10 to 20 people weekly.
Lest ye be judged
A naval veteran, who served from 1991-95, Anderson says he’s seen plenty of poverty both here in the United States as well as in such countries as Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand. Anderson says one thing he’s learned from interacting with low-income folks through both his travels and his work at Anniebugs is to never jump to conclusions about others solely by seeing how they appear.
“Too many judge folks just because they are down on their luck and living on the streets,” Anderson says. “There are good and bad with any group of citizens in the United States. I think a lot of folks judge before they get to know them. I just wish that those that we help would get the proper help. I believe that many of them would accept help if given the chance.”
When asked what he would change in our society after helping so many homeless folks, Anderson says he’s not sure, but he does wish more people paid attention to the plight of the poor.
“I just know that when one is homeless, clothing is the least of their worries,” he says. “When one must prove who they are and that they are truly in need, sometimes it is too much stress on the homeless. Having more organizations like ours would help a lot. Who does not feel better with clean warm clothing?”
You can find out more about Anniebugs Attic Thrift Store on their Facebook page and see their latest hours on their Google listing. Jim let me know they haven’t been receiving as many donations lately, so you can keep Anniebugs top of mind, especially for clothing, before donating elsewhere.
Freelance writer Rob Cullivan wrote this story! Photos by Bryan Atkinson.