First-Hand Care Exhibited at a Second-Hand Shop
At least twice a week, Isabelle Justo does something that benefits others and her own family as well. The French volunteer makes a nearly hour-long bike ride to a place called Roundabout at the Cathay View Plaza in Beijing’s Chaoyang District, where she sorts donated books. Her two daughters join her during their vacation. Justo says that while loving the feeling of serving others, the outings also mean exercise in a green way. In this way, she can kill two birds with one stone.
Roundabout is the first charity shop on the Chinese mainland run on donated goods that it distributes or sells to raise money for children from families facing economic hardships. Established in 2008 and run by philanthropists and volunteers, it is a bridge between donors and receivers.
An Inspired Start
The story of Roundabout started with British expat Leslie Simpson’s arrival in Beijing in 2004. Simpson was deeply influenced by the work of Irish philanthropist Christina Noble, whose foundation runs schools and a medical center for children in Vietnam. Following her example, Simpson began volunteering in a foster care home in Beijing. During the course of her work, she found that much of the donated items the home received were mismatched, such as furniture and clothes for adults. As a result, the volunteers working there had to spend a great deal of time and effort to sort things out and the goods that were of no use to the children had to be stored elsewhere.
She then checked with other charities and found they had the same problem. This made her think of starting an organization that could sort the donated goods and dispose of the unsuitable ones, and she started picking up such objects from seven children’s homes. These items were then sold and the money was used to pay orphans’ medical bills, or buy items they needed, such as infant milk powder. In this way, Roundabout, the charity shop, came into being.
After Simpson left Beijing in 2013, Roundabout continued to run under other volunteers. Today, it works with more than 80 charitable organizations across China. In 2015, it joined the China Charities Aid Foundation for Children and founded the Roundabout Special Fund. The fund launches crowdfunding online to help more children. So far, Roundabout has provided educational assistance to more than 40,000 children and medical support to over 1,100.
In its early days, the shop operated in a tiny area of about 100 square meters. With support from more communities, enterprises, schools, and embassies, it is now almost 10 times its early size.
Once the goods are received from the charities, they are sterilized and sorted. If they meet the needs of other charitable organizations, they are directed to them. The rest are priced and put up for sale. The sales proceeds, after deducting the shop’s operating costs, are used to pay for needy children’s medical treatment or education.
Shopping at Roundabout has several benefits. The items are cheaper and buyers know they are contributing to a good cause. Many of the buyers share their experience on social media, creating greater awareness of charity. There are two large pink boxes in front of the store and people come to drop their donated goods in them, and then they saunter inside the shop to buy something.
“More and more people are now using second-hand goods,” Lu Wenli, director of the public welfare platform at Roundabout, told China Today. “They are also willing to donate the things that are lying idle, which goes with the concept of recycling and environmental protection.”
The volunteers at Roundabout include students, parents, nearby residents and expatriates. More than 3,000 people volunteer annually.
Zhang Yueying is a high school student. She has been volunteering at Roundabout for more than two years. She sorts out toys and says she feels a great sense of accomplishment and motivation as she knows the toys will either go to children who want them or be sold for money to help more children.
A Place to Help Others
“At Roundabout, we have a place for those who want to help others. People realize that working for public welfare is not limited to donating money. There are other ways in which you can contribute and participate,” Lu said.
Besides the brick-and-mortar operation, Roundabout also holds online activities and takes part in other organizations’ events. In 2019, it hosted or participated in more than 100 events, including book fairs, flea markets, concerts, auctions and carnivals. It also has an online store and online bookstore that can be accessed at its official account on WeChat.
Schools remain a robust supporter of the organization. Every year, it hosts book fairs in different schools. This year, the one-day Roundabout Book Fair held at the Beijing International Bilingual Academy in April raised RMB 70,000 (US $10,363) to support a child with leukemia. Some children even sold their teddie bears and other toys to help the fund-raising.
Though COVID-19 has affected the operation of Roundabout like it has on all organizations globally, it finds ways to bounce back digitally. A fundraising concert with a Beijing school had to be changed from offline to online, however, it did not dampen the students’ enthusiasm. Guided by the music teacher of the school, they edited videos and designed posters for the online concert. Finally, 13 musical numbers were put up online and they raised over RMB 36,000 (US $5,330).
Roundabout now plans to reach out to more children via more channels. A new project, the Giving Circle, is working with nearby communities to create a charity platform.
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