One woman received a vintage bicycle; another wanted a kayak. Someone else was in search of a massage table — and got one. And all the items were free.
Buy Nothing groups have become a popular forum for giving and receiving, and in the middle of the pandemic, a Denver group has grown as a way to connect with neighbors online and from a distance.
Founded in 2013, the Buy Nothing Project is a global network of community groups where members post items they want to give away or request things they need, all for free. Colorado has 77 official groups listed on the Buy Nothing website, from the Denver/Boulder Facebook group with over 3,700 members to smaller groups for individual neighborhoods or towns across the state.
Valeen Heinle is the administrator of the Denver/Boulder Buy Nothing Facebook group, and she said it’s grown significantly in 2020, adding 182 members just last week. She’s seen a noticeable shift in posts as people are asking for basic things like diapers or grocery money, turning to their neighbors for help during the pandemic. Members have also posted free resources around the city for food and child care, which would usually fall outside of the group’s purview, but that’s changed with the virus.
“People are struggling right now with money and jobs,” Heinle told The Denver Post. “(Buy Nothing) is a positive thing in the weird world we’re living in right now.”
Jade Proctor of Glendale quickly noticed the spirit of generosity. She and her husband had been struggling to pay for groceries, and she made the decision to post about it last week.
Though she was a little embarrassed at first, Proctor said the response was overwhelming. She received 36 comments on her post providing resources and words of support. One person arranged a grocery delivery for her, and another bought diapers, snacks, wipes and formula for her year-old son.
“It was such a blessing,” she said. “People were so wonderful. They helped my family to the max.”
Proctor even ended up sharing her donated groceries with neighbors in her apartment building who also were struggling to pay for food in the pandemic.
Hannah Johnson of Boulder has been an active member of the Denver/Boulder Facebook group for six months. Last week, she donated a bag of clothes and got some camping supplies.
“It’s difficult now to find much sense of community,” Johnson said. “People aren’t really allowed to congregate or might think twice about getting together. So having a connection to your neighbors is really reassuring.”
But Johnson added that some of her experiences haven’t been as positive, with people flaking out or being rude about exchanges. When she donated her clothes, she asked for a family recipe in return, but one person who messaged her angrily refused the request.
She said it’s also a good idea to be careful about giving out addresses in such a large Facebook group. Because it spans from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs, people post their vicinity to drop off or pick up items, and interested community members can reach out over messenger for more specific meet-ups. But Johnson’s always careful with personal information.
Amie Kim is a former admin of the Denver/Boulder group, and she’s been active in Buy Nothing and similar area groups like Freecycle for 20 years. She’s found everything from a vintage bicycle to a laser printer.
The most important rule in Buy Nothing, Kim said, is that people should ask for anything. When someone asked for a kayak to entertain her kids, that’s important and worthy of generosity, Kim said.
“I didn’t allow any shaming of people who ask for things,” she said.
Kim moved to Spokane, Wash., two months ago, where she joined a smaller group that covers a 2-mile vicinity near her house. With a tight-knit circle, she’s been able to meet her neighbors and reach them on her bike, since she doesn’t have a car.
Kim prefers the smaller group to the giant Denver/Boulder one because Buy Nothing is meant to be hyperlocal, she said. She also emphasized that environmentalism is at the heart of the movement, which is focused on reducing waste and consumption. She’s currently reading a book by the movement’s co-founders, Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller, “The Buy Nothing, Get Everything Plan: Discover the Joy of Spending Less, Sharing More, and Living Generously” (Atria Books, 2020).
“(The founders) just started sharing in their community, giving away things, asking for things instead of buying new things,” Kim said. “They want everybody — regardless of economic background — to be able to participate, so they acknowledge that people who have less are going to ask more and that people who have more are going to give more.”
Heinle said she’s eager to grow the Buy Nothing community to widen the circle of people in Colorado who can give and receive, even though it’s different from the small-group model.
Neighborhood or small-town groups often have less than 100 members, and they sometimes remain inactive for months. There can be a trade-off between a closer community and fewer options for things that people can give away. Heinle also said responses in the bigger group can be a gamble — sometimes people get a response in minutes and other times their posts can get lost.
But Heinle’s always floored by people’s kindness, like when someone puts in a request for something like a TV and receives it completely free.
“It’s amazing to see the generosity,” she said. “I struggled with faith in humanity for a long time, but doing this I get some of that faith back.”
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