CLEVELAND — On East 65th Street in Cleveland sits a place birthed from a promise from one sister to another. A place that welcomes anyone like family and a place where someone takes what they need.
In order to rebuild lives and reclaim communities hit hard by the effects of poverty, Barbara Anderson helps give people a fighting chance.
It’s called the “Free Store” and Anderson started it out of survival and necessity to provide for eight children after her sister died.
Cleveland is the poorest big city in America with 30% of its residents living below the poverty level. The United Way of Greater Cleveland reports that over 41,000 families in Cuyahoga County live in poverty.
“People would say 'go to this place' and 'go to that place.' I would drive around and find things. First it was for me and my family, but it began to grow," Anderson said.
She began to keep items in her basement for people to take, then it moved to her church and now the “Free Store" on East 65th Street.
The “Free Store” is a clothing and housewares reclamation project for families and people in crisis. Everything from clothing, jewelry, shoes and furniture are all free.
It’s one of several resources provided by Another Chance of Ohio, a nonprofit that helps low-income families, which was also founded by Anderson.
“We want people to feel total when they leave. If we have it, we want you to have it,” Anderson said.
"We put shoes out in front so that if for some reason you should need shoes you can get them. Just knowing that you're doing good for so many people who really don't have the funds or don't have the resources and seeing the smiles....has been beautiful," she said.
While there are no glass slippers here in the free store, Anderson shared one experience that she will never forget. A young girl came in and found the perfect prom dress.
“She went in the back and tried on this particular one and she came back out and it fit beautifully. Not only did we have the dress for her, but we had the accessories," she said.
People who come into the store think of Anderson as their fairy godmother.
When Natasha Harris was homeless, she found the free store and remembers how Anderson made her feel.
"To come in here and get Miss Barbara, with a smile on her face, make you feel welcome. The lady said, 'Pick whatever you want and it's yours,' and I was like, 'For free?" Harris said.
Harris said the “Free Store” has helped her get a second chance, something she pays forward.
“Now I’m in my own place. I’m back in school. I want to help people," Harris said.
Harris is now a consistent donor to the store and helps Barbara, along with her team of volunteers, keep the shop stocked and ready to serve.
"When I think of the term Another Chance, I think back to when someone suggested 'Second Chance,' and if all I ever had was two chances I would fail miserably," Anderson said. "There are times when people just need Another Chance."
Anderson said funding is always a challenge because they rely solely on community donations. She is in need of boys and men’s clothing. For more information on how you can help, call 216-341-8733.
This story is part of A Better Land, an ongoing series that investigates Northeast Ohio's deep-seated systemic problems. Additionally, it puts a spotlight on the community heroes fighting for positive change in Cleveland and throughout the region. If you have an idea for A Better Land story, tell us here.