“Last week, I replied to someone who was generously offering freshly ground beef. The offer was made to those who are struggling in these tough economic times.”
There’s a lot of talk these days about finding creative ways to make ends meet. One fairly recent phenomenon that is getting even more attention today because of the uncertain economy is a grassroots, online “community” called Freecycle (TM).
Founded only five years ago, with the aim of cutting down on waste and keeping stuff out of landfills, Freecycle has grown to thousands of locally-based online sites with millions of members around the world. (For more on Freecycle’s history, visit the main site at www.freecycle.org )
It’s a simple idea. If you have an item you no longer want or need, you offer it. If someone wants or needs it, the member responds. If you need something, you ask for it and very often you will find that someone has been thinking about unloading that item for months and is grateful to find someone who will put it to good use.
“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”
Just about anything you can think of turns up on these groups, which are entirely run by volunteer moderators. Among the most commonly posted and asked-for items are clothing and other items for babies and children, and furniture.
The condition of these items can range from broken to like new – the rule being, if you’re offering something, please be honest about what kind of shape it’s in. One member who posted an offer of an old suitcase with a broken zipper – whose husband laughed at her for offering something he thought belonged in the trash – got three responses, including a gentleman who wanted the suitcase for storing shoes under his bed.
One of the pluses of offering items through Freecycle is that the person you decide to give it to comes to your house, or a designated meeting place, to pick it up – so there’s no schlepping stuff to a local charity collection spot or the swap shop at the town transfer station.
Items move very quickly in Freecycle groups, whether it’s a bag of dog food or kitchen sink.
Although some members may exercise the “first come, first served rule,” it’s not uncommon for a member to wait a day, sift through emails, and choose to give the item to someone he or she feels will most benefit.
Freecycle members tend to frown on the practice of taking items in order to resell them at a tag sale or on Ebay, but it does happen. And it may be that this is a way some members have of putting food on the table.
Another practice that has raised some controversy is offering or asking for pets. For one thing, Freecycle is about keeping things out of the trash – and living things should be treated with more care. However, some groups choose to allow this practice rather than risk having the animals abandoned by their owners who are often giving up their cat or dog because of a move.
As one Freecycle member put it, “Without exception, the best thing I have received from a Freecycle member is my lovely kitty cat, Maggie. My husband and I just love her, and we do all we can to make her happy, because she brings us so much joy.”
Some items are not allowed on Freecycle at all, such as weapons, explosives, anything that could be found obscene, and medications, for example.
The Storrs Freecycle group
Locally, it is the Storrs Freecycle group that serves Mansfield. While the majority of its members are from Storrs/Mansfield, others living in neighboring towns such as Willington, Willimantic or Coventry can join. The idea, however, is for groups to cover small geographic areas, because Freecycle also is about community. In fact, it isn’t unusual for Freecycle members to form close friendships.
One Storrs Freecycle member shares this story of how a generous impulse resulted in a special friendship:
“Last spring, there was a post on Freecycle Woodstock by a lady looking for clothes for her four children, the last not yet born. Her oldest child was three at that time.
I don’t usually respond to these requests, as my husband and I are planning to become foster parents, and we’ll need many of the things that we would be giving away.
For some reason, I could not get her request out of my mind. After a few days, I responded, offering to loan her whatever I could, knowing that I might never get the clothes back. I figured that her real-life children were more important than the foster children that I hope to help some day.
Since that time we have become good friends. Until I went back to work in October, we emailed each other almost every day, sharing the good times and the difficult aspects of parenting. She is now one of my closest friends… We have both benefited in many ways. Freecycle at its best!”
An extended family
Another member also formed a close friendship around children:
“A little over a year ago, I found that my son was outgrowing all of his infant items, and since I cannot have anymore children, I decided to offer these things.
I picked the recipient and had the pleasure of meeting a very friendly and newly-pregnant woman by the name of Christina. We made small talk and then went our separate ways.
A short time later, I was the recipient of some stickers and things given by Christina. A few months later, I saw a posting where Christina was inquiring about daycare in the area. She was due to give birth soon and was going to have to return to her job very shortly thereafter.
I personally do not do daycare, but informed her that if worse came to worse, I would be able to help her out, as I am a stay-at-home mom, myself.
We decided to set up a meeting date and when she arrived at my home, her husband and I realized we had worked together a long time ago, for a brief time.
To make a long story short, Christina delivered a healthy baby girl who is about to turn one in a few days. I have watched her since she was 6 weeks old, and her family is now like an extended family to me and my family. I am so happy to have met them and shared the past year “together” Thank you Freecycle!”
Keeping it simple
For some members, Freecycle is an extension of a frugal lifestyle:
“Why did I join Freecycle? A friend of mine said to me one day, “I just joined this list and it is so you; you have to check this out!” She was right! I’ve always lived this way – sharing things, not being wasteful, enjoying being part of various communities – so I was thrilled to hear of it.
I’ve been a member of this list for several years, now. I’ve had about 99 percent good experiences, I’d say. I’m very appreciative of the community that it creates. It has helped me share what I have with my neighbors. It’s great to see that someone needs something that I have, which I am glad to share.
Yes, we have received things we needed/wanted, too. Although we don’t watch TV, we do like to watch an occasional video or DVD; a Freecycle member gave us a color TV. My daughter recently received advice for a sewing pattern she could find online. Two of my teens are kept warm outside in winter coats received through this community.
We have met like-minded folks, as well, with whom we share fun, information and ideas.
My kids – all teens – think Freecycle is great. They love to offer things that they’re no longer using to younger kids, and they are very glad to be able to post for something they want but can’t afford to buy for themselves. “
Saving money in lots of ways
Freecycle also has been discovered by home-schoolers who are able to find lots of items to help in their “classroom”:
“I heard about Freecycle from someone in my home-school group several years ago, when we lived in Virginia,” one member said. “I used it off and on. I liked it because it was part of recycling, a part of the solution and not the problem.
When it was time for us to move here, I got rid of a lot of stuff, but didn’t want to see all of it in the garbage. Taking it to Goodwill was an extra trip I didn’t want to make time for. People were very grateful for the books, bits of furniture, etc. they were able to pick up for nothing.
When we got to Connecticut, I naturally found things “missing” – that obscure lost box, or various things a room needs that you hadn’t thought of and Freecycle was here for me.
I’ve found home-schooling materials – that’s saved me a lot of money. And an exercise machine I never would have been able to buy for myself.
In addition, I do props for our local community theater – the Windham Theater Guild. I have a tight budget, so I’m always looking for unique things at the lowest cost possible. Recently, I needed a vintage 1960s refrigerator; I couldn’t believe it, someone owned one they didn’t use and were willing to let us have it. It sounds hokey, but I don’t know what I’d do without you.
Sometimes Freecycle even helps feed people:
“Last week, I replied to someone who was generously offering freshly ground beef. The offer was made to those who are struggling in these tough economic times. I replied and picked up several pounds of ground beef for my sister and her family. When I delivered it to my sister, she was speechless and was delighted to get it, as she had no meat in her freezer. May God continue to bless those who generously give.”
Many people – preachers, politicians, porchside philosophers – are saying that the way we’re all going to get through these difficult times is for neighbors to help neighbors, and certainly Freecycle is one way of putting that philosophy into practice.
Editor’s note: Brenda Sullivan shares moderation of the Storrs Freecycle and Hebron Freecycle groups.
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