Free clothes “shop” for Ukrainian refugees opens in disused Polish mall

A large “shop” offering free clothes for people forced to flee the war in Ukraine has opened in a disused Kraków shopping mall, which has also been turned into a temporary shelter for hundreds of refugees.

In a little over a week, a former hypermarket in the Plaza mall has been renovated and turned into a large store with departments offering various types of clothing and footwear. It includes fitting rooms as well as play areas for children.

The initiative – known as Szafa Dobra, meaning “Wardrobe of Good” – is one of the largest among a range of actions across Poland to provide aid to Ukrainian refugees, who have usually arrived in Poland with few possessions.

“Szafa Dobra resembles a normal clothes shop, with the difference that the clothes are given to refugees for free,” said Maria Wojtacha, director of International Bund Polska, which runs the Open Kraków project in partnership with the city authorities.

Her organisation has launched the free clothes store in collaboration with furniture giant IKEA, construction firm Strabag and clothing company Diverse, reports LoveKrakow, a local news website.

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“We have managed to create a place where everyone can come and get as many things as they need,” says Wojtacha. “At the same time, everyone can bring undamaged clothes they want to share with those in need. All in one place.”

Several hundred volunteers prepared for the shop’s opening by unloading and sorting clothes donated by charities, companies and individuals. These are arranged according to the type and size of the clothing, with thousands of items in men’s, women’s and children’s departments. Signs in four languages direct “shoppers” to the right place.

“Summer and winter jackets, trousers, dresses, warm tops and sweaters, lighter vests and T-shirts are all hung up separately,” said volunteer coordinator Michalina Ferdynus. “There are also stands with shoes, hats, scarves, rucksacks and other accessories, as well as unused underwear.”

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Szafa Dobra is open at Aleja Pokoju 44 from Monday to Saturday between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Customers can take as many items as they need after showing their passport with a stamp or other document proving the date of their entry to Poland.

The shop is also accepting donations of clothing between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. on the same days. “We ask that they be clean, undamaged clothes,” said Wojtacha, adding that it helps volunteers if donations are sorted into separate piles for women, men and children.

Meanwhile, the Plaza mall itself is today opening a temporary shelter for 390 refugees. “Not only will they find a bed and the opportunity for safe accommodation, but also help including meals, medical aid, activities for children,” said Witold Kramarz, director of Kraków’s municipal social welfare centre.

Tomasz Wiszniewski of Strabag, which owns the building and worked with the city on the project, providing 60 engineers, project managers and builders, said: “We could not look on and do nothing as women and children were sleeping on the bare concrete of railway stations.”

When Plaza opened in 2002 it was one of Kraków’s first shopping centres of its type, but its last tenants left last year and Strabag bought the site, with the intention of demolishing the building and erecting a new multi-use complex.

Around 1.8 million people have crossed the border from Ukraine into Poland since Russia’s invasion. The government has not set up camps or other large-scale housing facilities and, as a result, those crossing the border have often moved on to large cities around the country.

Last week, a number of those cities declared that they could not accommodate any more refugees. That included Kraków, which had by that point received around 100,000 people, equivalent to 13% of its previous population.

Main image credit: Szafa Dobra press materials

Linda J. Picard

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