CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Marilena Garza is originally from Beeville, but currently lives in Corpus Christi. As a resident of the city, she sees first-hand how homelessness affects people in the area. In November, she started volunteering with “Tacos not Bombs,” when she noticed many people she was helping did not have shoes.
“People were showing up in socks, or with bags wrapped around their feet, and it bothered me a lot,” she said.
So, the next time she went to volunteer, she brought ten pairs of her shoes that she didn’t wear anymore to give away, and they were all distributed that day. She then looked to people she knew for donations to continue to provide shoes to people who needed them.
“Donations just started showing up. It started off with some shoes, maybe a couple of shirts, then it went to large donations of hygiene [products], to now it’s completely taken over my house and my life, and it’s become ‘The FREE Store,’” she said.
Garza now operates “The FREE Store,” storing the inventory at her house. She then sets up at Artesian Park on Sundays at 11:30 a.m., alongside “Tacos not Bombs.”
The entire stock of The FREE Store is available through donations, and Garza relies on volunteers to help her sort and organize the materials.
“It’s all volunteer, and it’s all the community. I just ask Corpus Christi people, ‘I need your help, this is what I need,’ and they deliver ten-fold,” she said. “People not even in our city help out, I’ve had donations as far away as Austin and Florida come in.”
Information on how to donate can be found on The FREE Store’s Facebook page. Some of the most needed donation items are backpacks, rain gear, work clothes, and undergarments.
Garza is in the process of making The FREE Store into a non-profit, and hopes to be able to expand to help more areas.
“I hope to eventually be able to service different areas of not just Corpus, but South Texas. I’ve gotten calls from Kingsville, from The Valley, from Beeville. Right now, it’s just Artesian Park, but I hope to become a mobile trailer store, to be able to serve the entire city and then some,” she said.