From her second-hand clothing store for children, located in the heart of Seville, Lola Jiménez Calderón is a professional committed to improving the living conditions of children in her city, toy by toy.
Lola is a tall, 55-year-old woman and has a slightly raspy voice with which she is always willing to add her opinion to conversations. She smiles a lot and stays alert to any question. She always has an immediate response. Her bold, caramel-colored hair is cut just above her shoulders. A handmade, red and blue felt flower hangs from the flap of her violet, knit jacket. Lola greets her fellow volunteers with a big smile and kisses on both cheeks. With her in the store, they are constantly in the air. The work environment at Ecopeque, a store specializing in second-hand clothing, accessories, toys, and books for children, is intense.
“We work based on three pillars: solidarity, ecological and economic,” says Lola, for whom solidarity in the community, especially when there are people who donate and help children of disadvantaged families, is essential. “People are increasingly aware that there is a need for change with respect to to.” In recent years, child poverty in Andalusia has increased at a faster pace than in other areas of Spain. The percentage of the population under 18 years of age in 2016 in a situation of relative poverty (when an income equal to or less than 60% of the average state income is available) was 44.6%, while the average in Spain was 29.6% , according to Save the Children report. With a total of 726,059 children living in poverty,
It is in this disturbing context that Lola and her store have a mission to fulfill. 100% of the funds raised in Ecopeque are allocated to the projects of the NGO Growing with Future (Growing Up with Future). “The organization, which originally started in Paraguay helping the children who lived inside the garbage dump of the city of Encarnación, has been working for the last 14 years supporting and helping the most disadvantaged children,” explains Lola. Today, Growing with the Future maintains an independent organization in Paraguay, which continues to manage aid to the children of Incarnation, while in Andalusia they focus their energy on supporting those who do not have a stable home.
Lola expects the volume of business of Ecopeque to increase. “Currently, the only problem is that they should know more and we need an injection of products that satisfy our demand,” explains the store manager. Ecopeque began four years ago with two other partners, Isabel and Rocío, and has not slowed down its sales pace due to the economic crisis. Between 2008 and 2013, Spain suffered the bankruptcy of many companies, resulting in 5.6 million unemployed by the end of 2012, 26% of the active population.
After having breakfast at home, Lola spends the morning doing her errands, having lunch with her family and, in the early afternoon, heads to Ecopeque. She never lacks energy, “I do not need coffee to continue throughout the day, maybe one in the morning, but that’s all.” Lola is married and has two children, Yolanda, who is 23 years old, a nutritionist, and lives with her parents, and Alfonso, who is 26 and works at a hotel in Manchester. “Before, I worked in a jewelry store and in a children’s clothing and footwear business. Now, I’m in a wine brand, which I combined with Ecopeque, “explains Lola, who likes her job a lot,” besides having a good time I meet very beautiful people and I always laugh with the children. “
Walking down Regina Street, one of the most fashionable in the city, among restaurants, cafes, boutiques and specialty food shops, it is difficult to overlook the bright green front of Ecopeque. “We have only been here for a year, so we are still adapting and hoping that in the future, there will be an injection for the NGO.” From the moment you walk through the door, there is not a color you ll miss, starting with those of a tree with circles of different sizes, full of intricate designs that surround the branches and trunk. Inside, you’ll find everything from a crib to a pacifier, to a SpongeBob SquarePants stuffed animal. Ecopeque has it all. Shelves full of stuffed animals, books and board games, and racks with clothes for all seasons. Lola and the volunteers, who work shifts that vary between approximately one and five hours, label each object, making sure that the price is always fair. Manuela, who is 58 years old and lives in Seville, says “I’ve volunteered here for a year now and it gives me a lot of joy; it’s a fun environment and I can make the kids smile! “
“Hi, can I help you?” Lola asks mother who has just come in with her one-year-old son. Lola is the first to jump to offer help to any customer who needs a particular item. “All children should have the essentials, and our store helps the parents provide them,” explains Lola, who shows up to smirk when she sees children. “Children like the one who just came in to have the biggest smile on their faces when they see all of the toys.” Children are allowed to play in the store while their parents visit. There are board games that teach English and Spanish, children’s books for ages, clothing and accessories for children, new and used of all kinds, from baby strollers to educational manuals. As store manager, Lola is admired by her coworkers. If any of the volunteers, like Manuela or Carmen, do not know the answer to something, they will always say:
“I work half a day, six days a week. My driving force is nothing less than a wonderful cause since it’s worth helping children find a family. It’s a star that shines inside of me, “explains Lola, who supports Growing with Future, whose mission is to help minimize the risk of the exclusion of minors living in shelters in Andalusia. These are children and adolescents who can not live with their families of origin and grow up in these centers. Sometimes with deep emotional wounds, they grow without stable affective figures and with a high probability of becoming at risk of social exclusion in adulthood. In Andalusia, there are more than 2,000 children in this situation and almost 400 in the province of Seville.
The future of Ecopeque depends on the community that strives to help those who have suffered the most, such as have been the case during the economic crisis that Spain has endured over the past decade. As Lola explains, “Many of our clients eat to Ecopeque because they know that they are an NGO.”