Social media often gets criticized for creating distances between people; for fostering loneliness and destroying our sense of “community.” “Where has conversation and personal connection gone?” is a cry we have heard too often. So, would you believe that many people are rediscovering their communities and building connections and friendships on Facebook? It’s true. One just has to look in the right places.
If you do a search for the “Buy Nothing Project” on Facebook, you will find many active groups. These can be subdivided by state, city, or region of a city. In Omaha, the city is carved up into Central, South/Offutt AFB, Northeast, Southeast, West, and Southwest groups. On the edges, there are groups for Papillion/La Vista, Bellevue, Bennington, and Elkhorn. Once a group gets too big, they “sprout” into smaller groups. (You can only join the group that’s in your area; you can check a map to confirm you are, indeed, in the right group.)
Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller started the Buy Nothing Project in July 2013, in Bainbridge, Washington, with about 60 or so members. Today, seven-plus years later, Buy Nothing Project boasts about 5,000 groups using its name and resources, with 10,000 volunteers running them. The group’s purpose is and always has been to let members “buy nothing, give freely, and share the bounty.” The concept is that members can post anything they would like to give away, lend, or share with “neighbors.” Additionally, members can also ask for something. But aside from getting something for free or getting rid of clutter, for some people, being in a Buy Nothing group has been the only bright spot in a year filled with anger, chaos, and COVID-19.
Take, for instance, the Omaha (Central) group. It was founded on Jan. 15, 2015, and now boasts nearly 900 members. Because it’s so big, it’s about to “sprout” again, which means it will break into several smaller groups, thus maintaining that “neighborly” feel. Many active members in this group have children, therefore, it isn’t uncommon to see members giving away baby and children’s clothes, toys, games, and even strollers and cribs. From time to time, someone will offer up nursing cloths, maternity clothing, unopened formula, and diapers. One member regularly gives away free food, which is quickly snatched up. Other members might make too much bread or have leftovers that they think someone might like. Others try a new product, don’t like it, and offer it up. Someone usually is only too happy to accept the gift. Effusive gratitude posts, complete with photos, are common.
Jenny Burg Williams has been a member of this Omaha (Central) group since September 2019, and said that it’s her favorite place to be on Facebook.
“The people here have such kind and generous hearts,” she said. “It’s not just about the things people give away, or the fact that it saves money, or that it’s a more environmentally friendly way to source needed items (although those are all wonderful things that I appreciate). But what I love most is seeing the spirit of kindness and generosity and the looking out for others that seems so lost in our world right now. It’s when there’s an overflow of people wanting to help with a felt need like diapers or groceries. I personally have had an overwhelming response to a minor emergency situation … I was honestly floored at how quickly people responded, and how many offers of help I had within five minutes. I’ve gotten to know many wonderful neighbors, and the camaraderie with all these kind souls has truly restored my faith in humanity in 2020.”
This sentiment was echoed by Jenny Ranne, another member: “I love being a part of our Buy Nothing Group. It gives a sense of community even though we can’t be within 6 feet or in large groups. There are so many different people from all walks of life being kind and generous with what they have, even if they no longer need it. Their ‘thing’ could provide someone else with a small or even big blessing in such a dark year.”
Demand for such groups is growing. According to Teki Vickers, an administrator of Buy Nothing Omaha (Central), the “Buy Nothing Project has added three groups in Omaha last year, four if you count Council Bluffs. That is really impressive! We really only need the Gretna-to-Chalco area covered, and we’ll have the whole of the Omaha area.”
Once one is admitted to a Buy Nothing group, the new member can post items on offer– including photos will attract more attention; ask for items (posting a photo for reference is best), or one can reply to an active post, saying “I’m interested.” The next step is to wait. Those who have posted their items will choose a recipient(s) and then contact them directly through Messenger. Pickup addresses are kept private. Typically, items on offer are left outside on a porch for contactless pickup.
Leah Miles joined Buy Nothing this year, because it aligns with her desire to “rely more on community and less on capitalism … a sense of community that shares and supports each other might be the only good take away from this nightmare year.”
Amanda Good said that she and her fiancé are planning their wedding and have benefitted from her Buy Nothing group.
“We are trying so hard to do this in a cost-effective and sustainable way, in the middle of a pandemic, and it wouldn’t be possible without this group,” she said.
Liz Jane said not only has she and her son found “lots of gems this year, from toys to homemade goodies to purses to a Christmas tree skirt,” but belonging to the group enables a person to get rid of smaller items without having to deal with the process of selling them.
“And it is nice to connect with neighbors in a simple way and to enjoy the spirit of giving all year long,” she said. “This year has been a really dark place for many, so it is good to recognize and appreciate the light, when and where it can be found.”
For more information about Buy Nothing Project, go to buynothingproject.org. Clark and Rockefeller’s book on the subject, published April 14, is titled “The Buy Nothing, Get Everything Plan: Discover the Joy of Spending Less, Sharing More, and Living Generously.”