By Laura Camerlengo
“Buy Nothing, Give Freely, Share Creatively,” reads the mission of the Buy Nothing Project.
The Project, which began in 2013 to foster a hyper-local gift economy in Bainbridge Island, Washington, has now grown to include more than 44 nations. The Project exists through locally based Facebook pages, where neighborhood members can seek, borrow, or give away goods and services – for free.
San Francisco’s Buy Nothing group formed in December 2016, and since then, numerous neighborhood groups have also sprung up around the City, including a Richmond District group in 2018.
Edna Freeman is a freelance social media manager and co-administrator for the Buy Nothing Richmond District group.
“I was part of the big Buy Nothing in the City, but it was hard for me to get some items when they were too far,” Freeman said. “So, I decided to step in for the Buy Nothing Richmond District group.”
Freeman oversees the group with friend and fellow Richmond neighbor Kellie Hanna; Mauro Moura serves as the group’s moderator.
Hanna, a full-time writer and a part-time yoga instructor, explains that their “work on a daily basis mostly involves either accepting or declining people’s requests to join the group.
“It’s amazing how many people from other areas of the City try to join!” Hanna said.
Diana Freeburg, a Buy Nothing Richmond District member and stay-at-home mom in the Outer Richmond, likes how the group provides her with a connection with her neighbors.
“It’s very wonderful to participate in this on a hyper-local level,” she said.
“The beautiful thing about this group is that you have access to 1,600 diverse local friends to which your rusty tomato cage or almost-full bag of protein powder could possibly be a welcome and needed thing…. This group is full of people that actually care about the environment and avoiding wastefulness a great deal.”
The group’s members – and their giveaways – have helped many people during times of transition. Julie (who preferred not to share her last name), a longtime San Francisco resident who moved to the Richmond eight months ago, describes how beneficial her participation was during her family’s relocation.
“Approximately 75% of my home furnishings are from Buy Nothing,” Julie said. “In our recent move, we acquired an entire mahogany dining room set from Buy Nothing – a table with leaves, eight chairs with custom fabric, buffet, glass cabinet and side table all in beautiful condition… I still admire it daily and get giddy.”
With the economic downturn in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Buy Nothing has proved especially helpful to those dealing with financial challenges and job loss.
“The most meaningful gift (I received) was when I was unemployed, and I wanted to make my son’s birthday special,” Freeman recalled. “I posted asking for help, and so many people gave him something. It was very heartwarming!
“I love the community and support we give each other. It is like a big family,” she added.
But despite fostering a bustling gift economy and sense of community engagement, the group does have its challenges. In addition to folks who moonlight as Richmond residents to join the Buy Nothing Richmond District Facebook page, some members do not always adhere to the group’s rules.
“The rule is that unless it’s a ‘lightning giveaway,’ not to give it to the first person who replies, but rather to have a raffle,” member Carrie Rice noted. “But I frequently find that people don’t give those who are not available during the day time to respond fast enough to get the goodies.”
Despite the rule breakers, Rice is a big fan of the page.
“I love the local aspect of it,” she said. “It makes it easier to pick things up, but also to connect with people in the Richmond neighborhood. I love my neighbors!”
For Freeman, her greatest challenge came several months ago, when the Buy Nothing Richmond District Facebook page was hacked.
“When the group was hacked, I wanted to give up,” Freeman said. “I am thrilled that Kellie Hanna stepped in and didn’t let me.”
Hanna, who was active in Buy Nothing before she became an administrator, observed that the benefits of membership not only extend to gift recipients, but also to gift givers.
“My most meaningful giveaway was a wheelchair I had … from 2016 when I had broken my leg,” Hanna said. “I gave it away in 2020. I wrote in the post that I would choose the recipient based on their reasons for wanting the wheelchair. I received a request for it from a woman, followed by this message:
I’m interested in the wheelchair for my grandma, she is 92. My grandma can be a bit stubborn about things – being independent and doing absolutely everything she can by herself, and being economical. As a result, it has been hard to get her to agree to buying a wheelchair, even though she can’t make it more than a few blocks walking, holding onto my arm. As a result, her world has gotten a lot smaller. We want to take her to the Dahlia Garden in Golden Gate Park but because of the closure of JFK Drive (due to COVID), she can’t walk that far. I know your wheelchair would bring her mobility and joy! I hope you’ll consider her for your wheelchair.’
“Needless to say, I was thrilled to give the wheelchair to the woman for her grandmother,” Hanna said.
“Buy Nothing is more than just getting free stuff or clearing up your house,” Freeman said. “It is about building a community and connecting with your neighbors in a very meaningful way.”