Not all of the recycled merchandise at Second Gear winds up in someone else’s closet. Some items have reached their peak and can’t be resold. But they aren’t dumped in a landfill either.
Instead, Image 420 employee Blaine Miller rescues and repurposes them for the homeless. In the midst of a particularly raw winter, Miller said that unsold winter gear - fleece, toboggans, sleeping bags, gloves and other cold weather equipment made for the outdoors - has saved lives.
He and his wife Christine are devoted volunteers of the Haywood Street Congregation, a faith based non-profit serving the homeless. Miller said Christine spearheaded the couple’s work with the Congregation. And for the last two years Miller has hauled a mountain of boxes of unsold items from Second Gear to the Congregation’s clothing closet to outfit people who are temporarily or chronically homeless. Although there’s an abundance of donated blue jeans and tee shirts “there's always a shortage of good quality cold weather gear,” explained Miller, who prior to working at Image 420 owned two bike shop’s in the 1990s, one in Black Mountain and Carolina Fatz in Asheville. He sold both by 2001.
“Honestly it’s hard to grasp what Asheville was like. Downtown and West Asheville are now so completely different,” he said. Yet the city’s prosperity over the last two decades isn’t shared by everyone. Asheville has experienced a persistent homelessness problem and the issue is more dire in the winter and during the pandemic which forced shelters to limit space. According to the Asheville Citizen-Times, the city’s homeless count in January 2021 exceeded 500 people and on any given night between 250-350 are unsheltered.
Second Gear founder Russ Towers said that managing surplus items with limited storage is a constant challenge. During a conversation with Miller two years ago the two hatched a solution (for 17 years Image 420 has outfitted Second Gear with promotional material). Initially, Miller loaded up his truck with Second Gear extras monthly, but to keep up he now transports clothes and equipment once-per-week to the Congregation’s downtown headquarters on Haywood Street. According to Miller, the shop is one of the mission’s most prolific and consistent sources of quality winter clothes and gear.
“Sometimes it’s just a box, but usually I’m moving 4 to 5 boxes per week,” he said. “By far and away the superior stuff that comes to the Congregation is from Second Gear. Exactly what someone on the street needs now.”