Light verses, light purses – poetry meets charity

Poetry bomber arrives in Europe

Argentinean artist Augustina Woodgate, aka the poetry bomber, has extended her reach from Miami, Florida, to Berlin. Equipped with the tools of her trade – needle, thread, and scissors –  her modus operandi is to casually enter a charity shop and then quickly sew a short quote into a piece of clothing without anyone noticing. If you buy a skirt in a charity shop in Miami, you might well find a Sylvia Plath quote, ‘Even the sun-clouds this morning cannot manage such skirts’. If you opt for trousers, you might be reminded of Li Po’s words of wisdom: ‘Life is a huge dream/why work so hard?’ Now that she’s moved on to Germany, Berlin charity-shop shoppers could happen across the German translation of the Jimi Hendrix quote, ‘knowledge speaks but wisdom listens’ or anything else that takes her fancy.

‘Sewing poems in clothes is a way of bringing poetry to everyday life just by displacing it, by removing it from a paper to integrate it and fuse it with our lives. Sometimes little details are stronger when they are separated from where they are expected to be,’ Augustina said in a recent interview with The Guardian.

Charity shop opens in Budapest

Up until quite recently, Budapest would have been off limits to the poetry bomber. Agustina would have found little to interest her cause. Not because of tight security measures, or a national antipathy to poetry (far from it, in fact), but simply because it didn’t have a charity shop. And this gap in the market has been the subject of many an expat reminiscence. Charity shops can be found in every town and village in Ireland and the UK and are part and parcel of the fabric of society. Repositories for clothing, books, and household items that have at least one more life left in them, trolling these shops is a national pastime for many. They’re the first port of call for students furnishing a flat. They’re a haven for voracious readers looking for a cheap fix. They’re an Aladdin’s cave for vintage clothing fans in search of treasure. You can find anything from an abacus to a zither – the full gamut of every conceivable item that can fit on a shop floor. The posher the area, the richer the pickings. A little like the lomtalanítás. And all the time you’re spending, you know that your money is going to a good cause – and not to line the pockets of some already mega-rich conglomerate.

Second-hand shops not the same thing

Charity shops should not be confused with second-hand clothing shops (hundreds of which line the streets of Budapest). Yes, charity shops are out to make a profit, too, but the profit they make goes to a charitable cause.  And unlike second-hand clothing shops, charity shops cannot be set up by individuals – they need to be set up by a charity…hence the name.

Back in 1947, the British charity Oxfam launched an appeal for aid to help the post-war situation in Greece. It was inundated with blankets and clothing and decided to open a retail shop in Oxford (which is still running) to sell some of the donations and to use the profits to further fund aid in Greece (there are only so many blankets a country needs). Staffed mainly by volunteers, the charity shop network in the UK alone is fuelled by more than 160 000 like-minded souls who want to contribute their time to a good cause. In 2010, the 9000 or so charity shops in the UK generated more than £170 million, which went to fund everything from animal welfare to medical research and overseas aid.

Korhazionkentes – the Hospital Volunteer Care-giving Service Foundation – is the first organisation to tap into people’s charitable streak here in Budapest. It uses the profits from its adománybolt at 6 Üllői út, to recruit and train volunteers to visit with patients in Hungary’s hospitals.

What kind of donations are welcome

So if you’re wondering what to do with all that unwanted stuff in your flat or simply feel like shopping in a shop that does some good for someone else, drop 6 Üllői út, literally a stone’s throw from Kalvin tér. They accept donations between 12 and 6 from Monday to Friday. And they’ll accept practically anything that is clean and still works – books, ornaments, toys, clothes and accessories, CDs, DVDs, cassettes, musical instruments, bags, pictures, jewellery, sports goods, kitchen utensils – the list is endless (but no food or furniture). If in doubt, check with them before you lug it over there. E-mail,  or call them on +36/20-287-47-97. Who knows, maybe the poetry bomber will drop by and that shirt you pick up might have a little message from Ady Endre stitched inside…. Az adhatás gyönyörüsége (the delight in being able to give).

First published in the Budapest Times 18 November 2011.


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