Some of the more memorable items posted in the Buy Nothing North River Heights online group have been a toddler-size rocking chair that has seen numerous homes and 30 paintings gifted to new owners.
Amanda Greisman is the co-ordinator of the private group on Facebook. She has seen all sorts of items listed as giveaways, but it’s the connection to her neighbours that she values the most.
"People in the group quickly realize that the stuff listed is a conduit to new relationships on your block, in your neighbourhood," she said.
The Buy Nothing project was started in 2013 by women in Washington state in the U.S. and has since expanded to 44 countries around the world. The goal is to set aside the cash economy in favour of sharing the abundance with your neighbours.
"The basics are: you post something you’re giving away, or something you’re looking for," Greisman said. "But it goes beyond that. People express their gratitude. It really helps people connect with others in their neighbourhood. People also contribute their time and talent."
Since she became a co-ordinator for the Buy Nothing project two years ago, she has seen its popularity grow. What started as a single River Heights group grew to 1,600 members. "That became too big, and lost that personal feeling," Greisman said, adding the group was split into three: the north one she co-ordinates, a south River Heights group and a Tuxedo group.
When that split was about to occur, she wrote a goodbye message to the members. "I watched with amazement as it grew and swelled with pride as I witnessed your endless generosity, kindness, and community support. I felt a mama bear defensiveness if someone tried to take advantage of your giving and welcoming nature. I followed your stories as your children grew, you started new jobs, you adopted or said goodbye to your fur babies. This group has been my neighbourhood family, and in the last year and a half, I’ve gotten to know more people in the neighbourhood than I did in the seven years before that."
A resident of Niagara Street, Greisman said she only knew four neighbours when she moved there in 2012. Since joining the Buy Nothing group, she has come to know people up and down her block and all over River Heights.
"I put out a message, asking if anyone could fix a volcano model kit for my kids. A woman down the street drilled out the hole that was plugged," she said. "Now my kids know her house as we walk by, and wave at the ‘volcano lady’. I’m looking forward to the day when we can meet in person."
The group has adapted to pandemic conditions by asking all transactions take place outside at a physical distance. Greisman has seen a balloon arch passed around from party to party, offers to help shovel walkways and clean up branches after last October’s "snowmageddon," along with items borrowed for the day, such as "a wagon for a day at the beach, a specialty tool for a one-off use, a book for a book club."
Members of the group have written notes of gratitude for the support they’ve received from their neighbours in times of crisis, such as following the death of a family member, or on joyous occasions such as the birth of a baby.
"Many of them spoke about how they didn’t want to go shopping during the pandemic and turned to the group for presents for their children and grandchildren," Greisman said. "Many of the items have stories. Everyone wants their item to go to a home where it will be loved."
For more information on the Buy Nothing project, and to find a nearby group, see buynothingproject.org
The Sou'wester community journalist
Susie Strachan is the community journalist for The Sou'wester. Susie got her first paying job as a journalist in the late '80s on the Free Press Weeklies, then followed that with 20 years as a reporter, photographer and specialty editor at the Winnipeg Free Press. She then spent 10 years working for WAVE magazine with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, before returning to her roots as the reporter/photographer for The Sou’wester.