Madi Niven poses with the pop-up sign before customers arrive for the limited-time event. Photo courtesy of Madi Niven

When Madi Niven thinks back on her time at the University of Montevallo, one course in particular stands out. As a former communication studies major, Niven remembers all too well the prompt Dr. Sally Hardig offered her and her classmates when choosing a semester topic in their Persuasion course: What would you march in the streets for?   

For Niven, the answer to that question was, and continues to be, ending child hunger.  

“I’ve had a heart for a while to feed people who were starving. To me, that’s something that pulls on my heartstrings,” said Niven.  

While she has yet to literally take to the streets for the cause, she has made admirable strides through other efforts.  

Following a trip to Haiti with the charity group Food for the Poor, Niven felt restless. There was a duality to her trip that she couldn’t shake. While the locals she encountered greeted her with warm smiles and kind hearts, the conditions in which they were living presented a striking contrast. There were people lacking the basic necessities that are so often taken for granted.  

“It’s Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Basically, the first need is food, water and shelter. If you don’t have that then it’s really hard to pursue anything beyond that,” said Niven. “Something as simple as providing food can give people the opportunity to pursue even more opportunities.”  

Once back home, Niven was further inspired by the words of her pastor; he said, “Not on our watch are kids going to be starving when we can do something about it.”  

Niven more than agreed with that sentiment, and sought to not only spread that message but take action. It was then that the idea for a thrift shop pop-up took hold.   

A pop-up is a short-term retail event that once it’s gone, is gone for good; and, Niven, while a huge advocate for feeding the hungry, is also passionate about other movements, including those of the trendy sustainable clothing variety. What better way to combine her two loves of thrifting and helping those in need than a one-day consignment event where all the proceeds go to the organization she admires so much, Food for the Poor? 

Beyond Niven’s own enjoyment of thrift shopping, she also knew that such an event would be accessible for many people to participate in.  

“I wanted to create an event that made it easy for people to help others,” said Niven. “People at any stage of life could help either by donating or by shopping at the event. It widened our audience.” 

Although Niven was the mastermind behind the occasion, she credits her success to the efforts of her family who worked so hard to aid her every step of the way. From finding sponsors, donors and a venue, to providing exposure via social media, to volunteering the day of the event, Niven never worked alone.   

Niven also received aid from the community. Birmingham Mountain Radio provided the pop-up with free ads on air, as well as social media posts promoting the event; Birmingham vintage apparel shop Manitou Supply donated clothing to be sold; Birmingham food truck Bendy’s Cookies & Cream donated 60 cookies to be given out to customers; and, not to be forgotten, Boutique Bazaar of Alabaster served as the venue for the event, free of charge.   

 On the day of the event, shoppers were greeted by an array of miscellaneous goods. Clothing, shoes, electronics, toys, furniture and cookware were just a few categories of stock present at the pop-up. Stand-out items included collector’s edition Barbie dolls and a myriad of designer purses.  

Even Niven herself succumbed to the pop-up’s treasure trove of goods. “I went and bought clothes at the thrift shop pop-up,” said Niven. “You know it’s good when the people who are running the event can’t wait to shop either. We wanted to be a part of it.” 

The pop-up’s goal was to raise enough money to feed 50 starving children. However, by the end of the day they had raised $2,699, enough to provide food to 61 children for an entire year.   

“Every time a kid was fed, so for every $43.83 that was given to the pop-up, we had a bell-ringer, my dad,” said Niven. “We’d hear it ring and go, ‘oh my gosh we just fed our sixth kid,’ or ‘oh my gosh we just fed our thirtieth kid or our fiftieth kid,’ or ‘oh my gosh we just fed our sixty-first kid! It was awesome.” 

Considering the event’s success, it should come as no surprise that many people have begun asking Niven if and when a second thrift-shop pop-up will be held.  

“I’m not sure when the next one will be, or if I’m going to make it a once-a-year thing or twice-a-year thing,” said Niven. For now, the 24-year-old plans on taking a long-awaited and much-needed rest.