The 94 Store: A call to sustainable help

By Veronica Figueroa
The 94 Store:
Through The 94 Store, Chris and Helen Frost are trying to tackle unemployment in South Africa, specifically Walmer Township in the city of Port Elizabeth. The unemployment rate at the township is at a high of 80% and it feeds other problems like teenage pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, child neglect, orphans, poor education and limited access to basic things like roads, running water and electricity.
While studying at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, Helen became part of an initiative, the Touch Project, which encompassed a group of passionate students who used media as a way to make a difference in Walmer Township. They would prepare themselves with cameras and interview the people living in poverty. They found practical ways to help around, like building a new shack for an elderly woman named Gogo, but they learned that temporary aid would not improve the living situations of these citizens. “The poverty cycle is only broken when people are able to work and sustain themselves. When this is accomplished, their children can grow up in an environment that promotes success,” Chris shared. “Helen grew up in South Africa where poverty and begging are common everyday sightings. She was raised to know better than to fuel the begging mentality, but also to know that people facing poverty deserve justice from their circumstances.”
From these shared experiences throughout her life, Helen Frost was inspired to launch The 94 Store.
The 94 “headquarters” is a small, three-room building where the bags and stars are made by Nora, Lucy and Trudy, the three women who are employed part-time. Over the past year, they’ve learned sewing and beading from a sewing expert named Denyse and the Christmas stars were designed and taught by Helen. “Denyse has been involved in empowerment projects for decades,” Chris said. A local company, The Hope Factory, gave them six sewing machines which the women use to make the bags.
The bags are classic canvas tote bags with hand stitched shweshwe (traditional African fabric). All the bags have a name which mean something in Xhosa, one of South Africa’s official languages. Inzolo means “peace,” iThemba means “hope,” Uthando means “love,” Ubomi means “life,” Ilitha means “light,” and Ukholo means “faith.”
The lives of Nora, Lucy and Trudy have changed dramatically since they began working. Before , they were unemployed, with little hope of earning income. Now, however, they’ve learned to take great pride in their work. “They are always excited to hear about the orders that have come in from across the world,” Chris shared. “Instead of sitting at home with nothing to do, Nora, Lucy and Trudy now spend their work days fulfilling orders for their handmade products. They have become part of a team and best of all are able to take home a part-time income at the end of every week. Although our goal is to employ them full time, the money they are able to earn goes a long way to improving their living conditions.” The 94 Store ships to the US and internationally.
The long term vision that Chris and Helen have for 94 is to employ as many people as possible on a consistent basis and to develop better systems for training people in poverty to be successful. “That would include classes on money management, counseling and programs to provide education for their children,” Chris said. “Our conviction is that 94 has to be a consistent reliable resource to our ladies. So far people have responded with overwhelming support, which gives us confidence that the project will grow. At this point we really rely on every order, and every tweet to keep the business running. With the use of social media these days we hope that awareness will grow exponentially.”
To get involved with The 94 Store, all Chris and Helen ask for is to spread the word through word of mouth or social media. “We believe that many people would appreciate the opportunity to get involved in a sustainable form of help,” Chris said. “The more people who hear about 94 and heed the call to #CarryHope, the more people we can employ!”
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