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The free mobile donation store, run by volunteers Charlie Hannah and Rianne Svelni, allows community members it serves the freedom to select the items they need most

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Charlie Hannah, founder of Distro Disco, in front of the camper van they use to distribute items to low-income and unhoused communities of Vancouver.Jackie Dives/The Globe and Mail

Distro Disco is a donation centre on wheels that distributes much-needed items to the unhoused population of Vancouver.

The volunteer-run project was founded by long-time friends Charlie Hannah and Rianne Svelnis at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

At the time, Hannah (who prefers the gender-neutral pronoun they) had been laid off from their job in the film and television industry and was collecting the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. The friends began to worry about how the pandemic would affect their unhoused neighbours on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

Hannah and Svelnis started making “COVID Kits” that included items such as batteries and hand sanitizer, which they distributed at tent cities. “There isn’t a reason that people shouldn’t get the things they need to survive if they have to live outdoors because of a housing crisis,” Hannah said.

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Jackie Dives/The Globe and Mail

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Hannah distributes free items to people in a parking lot near the tent city at Crab Park in Vancouver on Feb. 12. Hannah, who owns a 1980s camper van, decided to put it to better use as a mobile distribution centre for the community.Jackie Dives/The Globe and Mail

Looking to expand on the existing services provided by members of the Downtown Eastside community, the duo began holding monthly supply drives where people could drop off gently used or new household items, including clothing and camping equipment such as tents and tarps.

Hannah owned a 1980s camper van they had planned to fix up for personal travel, but decided it could be put to better use as a mobile distribution centre for the growing inventory of donations coming in. They outfitted the van with a disco ball in homage to its retro heritage and named it the Disco Distro.

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Jackie Dives/The Globe and Mail

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The Distro operates as a 'free store,' a concept that allows the people it serves to select the items they need most, in contrast with traditional donation centres where organizers often dictate who gets what.Jackie Dives/The Globe and Mail

The Distro is run as a mutual-aid project, where people come together to collectively meet the needs of the community. It operates as a “free store,” a concept that allows the people it serves to select the items they need most, in contrast with traditional donation centres where organizers often dictate who gets what.

Distro Disco collects items at Hannah’s garage on the first Saturday of every month and redistributes them at Crab Park, Grandview Park and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users on the following Saturdays.

The organizers primarily use Instagram to keep people informed about what items are required, but say the greatest need is for tents, lights, blankets, tarps, warm clothing, batteries and toiletries. Gift certificates to places such as Shoppers Drug Mart and Tim Hortons have been donated in the past and remain popular.

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Food for people in need at a recent donation drive. 'There isn’t a reason that people shouldn’t get the things they need to survive if they have to live outdoors because of a housing crisis,' Hannah says.Jackie Dives/The Globe and Mail

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Toiletries, tents, lights, blankets and warm clothing are among items that Distro is most in need of.Jackie Dives/The Globe and Mail

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Distro's organizers primarily use Instagram to keep people informed about what items are required.Jackie Dives/The Globe and Mail

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Distro collects items at Hannah’s garage on the first Saturday of every month and redistributes them at Crab Park, Grandview Park and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users on the following Saturdays.Jackie Dives/The Globe and Mail

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