It’s hard to predict just what will pop up in the Shelby Buy Nothing Facebook group.
It might be someone asking for a dog carrier for their car. A single kitchen knob. Scrubs for work or a medicine bag. Sometimes they are specific, such as one woman’s request for dinosaur themed birthday decorations.
And the gifts are just as varied.
There are hermit crabs - with cages - a skateboard, aloe vera plants, poker chips, an old cast iron bathtub, two block sets of kitchen knives and duck-shaped bookends.
In the Buy Nothing world, someone will want what you don’t need anymore. Nothing is too outrageous, old or unusable.
People make one of three posts: an ask, a gift or an expression of gratitude.
According to the website, the Buy Nothing Project was founded in 2013. The mission was to create a sense of community and connect people through hyperlocal gifting. It also reduces the impact on the environment by reusing items instead of wasting or buying new.
“It makes us all richer and the planet cleaner,” the website states.
It’s also fun and holds an element of surprise.
In 2021, Elisabeth Brown decided to start one in Shelby when her family moved to the city from South Carolina.
Although small, at 466 members, it is growing daily and has an active core group of followers.
There is a sense of community that is especially refreshing following the isolation brought on by COVID-19.
“I’m loving seeing all the connections that are made,” Brown said. “Between COVID and the way people have kind of changed since COVID… it’s really put a damper on everything so I'm hoping this will kind of help hold those ties that you still need people. You can't just Instacart and remote do stuff forever. Let's get back to interacting with people and have those human connections. Whether or not we like it, it does take a village. “
Whitney Sanders Fowler is the mother of a newborn but she likes to bake. Each month, she makes treats, such as cinnamon rolls, apple pies, peanut butter and no bake cookies, and gives them away as gifts.
Fowler said she was invited to join Buy Nothing by a friend and enjoys sharing the fruits of her labor.
“It makes my heart feel good that I can share my gift with others,” she said. “I also like getting to meet everyone because most of the time I'm at home taking care of my kids, and this gives me a little adult interaction instead of just kids all day.”
Brown, a mother of five, said when she lived in Clover, South Carolina, she became a member of a local Buy Nothing group.
“I grew up in a religious community, and everyone handed things around, passed things down, and I always wanted to do that,” she said. “Ninety five percent of what my kids use and wear someone else gave to me. I was like, if all moms did this, it would take the burden off.”
Although many of the members are mothers or grandmothers, there are men too and everyone is welcome.
When Brown decided to launch her own group as a way to meet people and connect, she went through training that involved 12 modules, a video and a question segment.
She said this was to ensure she understood the mission and the reason behind the various rules. There is no posting about prices, no public location posts for obvious safety reasons, and although simple explanations behind an ask are allowed, long sob stories are discouraged. Although it makes an impact, especially for those with lower incomes or in difficult situations, it is not a charity or community bulletin board.
There is no money exchanged and bartering is not allowed.
It is purely ask and receive.
And the giver picks who will receive the gift. It is not based on first come, first serve, and members are encouraged to let a post “simmer” while they consider who to gift an item to.
Repeated asks by the same person are discouraged, and people are advised to be patient when arranging pick ups.
Gayle Childers, a group administrator, said she first joined earlier in the year because she had a bunch of things she was getting rid of and wanted to give them away.
She has since given and received many different things and her daughter-in-law recently joined and was needing mason jars for her son's wedding. She received a whole case.
When Childers recently took in her 2-year-old grandson without any notice, the community rallied around her to drop off some of the things she needed for him. In the 24 hours between getting the call to pick him up and bringing him home, her porch was loaded with diapers and other things.
During the formula shortage, some women gave away formula.
“The group helps a lot with my family of seven,” said Martha Brown. “Usually something I could use or want. The group also helps with my social anxiety. I have to leave the house and sometimes we talk when we pick up stuff, sometimes no. Just feels like family.”
Some people enjoy cleaning stuff out of their homes and knowing it will still have a new purpose.
“It's a real community where it's not just about stuff but helping others,” said Stephanie Allison. “I have enjoyed it and decluttering my home has been an added advantage.”
The mission of the group, according to the Facebook page, is to “Give, receive, lend, share, and show gratitude in hyper-local gift economies, where the true wealth is the connections between real neighbors.”
Anything legal is a gift or an ask.
Locally, the group has also rallied around members in a crisis.
When one woman had a garage fire that destroyed half her house, people gifted her things she needed.
One of Brown’s favorite gifts she recently received was a 50-gallon tank that had a crack in the glass. A man was giving it away, and they repurposed it for their turtle.
“We went and got the tank and turned it around so the crack was in the back,” she said. “It worked out perfect for him. He didn't have the strength or way to haul it off and throw it away. He knew someone could probably use it for a reptile or something. You're kind of helping the gifter in a way by taking it, but at the same time you have a need that they are able to provide for.”
Although the Buy Nothing Project recently launched an app and is encouraging people to use it instead of creating new Facebook groups, there are plenty of existing ones around the country.
For tips on creating your own Buy Nothing Project in your community or how to best utilize an existing group, visit the website, buynothingproject.org.
Rebecca Sitzes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org