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Friends In Need And Deed At Freecycle

March 19th, 2008

freecycle.JPGBy Harriet Blake

You’ve just moved to town and somehow you still have too much stuff. The Salvation Army is about 20 minutes down the road. But perhaps there is someone closer who could use that antique desk or the comfy but well-worn recliner? And with the price of gas and all those carbon emissions, that 40-minute trip seems unhealthy.

Freecycle.org is ready to lend a hand. The Internet-based service is, as their site states: “a place to give or receive what you have and don’t need or what you need and don’t have.” The idea is to recycle items at no cost and keep things out of landfills. The recipient of the item(s) is responsible for picking them up.

Members of the freecycle “nation” can’t say enough good things about the website.

Edmund Knighton (above) and his wife moved to Seattle last summer, leaving many things behind. As a doctoral student who hasn’t been working for five years, he says he was thrilled to discover freecycle.org.

“We have been blessed with a complete living room set-up, a brand new rug, a beautiful hotel armoire and a bookcase for my dissertation materials. In the kitchen, we were gifted with a stool, several gourmet cookbooks, 50 pounds of wheat flour and a vintage toaster for our vintage home (circa 1901). I was even given B vitamins to reduce the stress of moving!”

“Just yesterday, a freecycler landscaper delivered a 10-foot Hawthorne tree to my front yard, then she and her husband counseled me about where to plant it, how to compost it etc. Then they helped me dig the hole!”

Freecycle.org was started in 2003 by Dfreecycle_logo1.jpgeron Beal in Tucson, Ariz. At the time Beal was working for a non-profit group helping people who were down on their luck get back on their feet. In the process, he gathered a large amount of excess furniture and other items that he needed to unload. Using e-mail, he asked about 40 friends for help. Word spread. His story appeared in area newspapers and almost immediately the network of 40 became 800.

Beal, 40, got freecyle.org up and running on nights and weekends, while he still worked for the non-profit group, RISE. He applied for 501c status and got grants, following the business model of National Public Radio. He even found time to get married.

Initially, he says, “I thought this was too large a group. But then, the number nearly doubled overnight and I realized we had hit on something.” Today every community with 20,000 to 30,000 people has freecycle.org. Within the first year, it went global. Now there are freecycle.org groups in 85 countries, Beal says. “We have 10,000 local volunteers, including 500 leadership coordinators, 4.5 million users and one staffer – me.”

Freecycle.org, Beal says, keeps about 400 tons of waste out of landfills every day, roughly the height of Mount Everest, he estimates.

“Goodwill and the Salvation Army are great, but they even end up with 60 to 70 percent of donations that need to be thrown away. We’ve seen some of these thrift store groups use freecycle.org as well. Some freecycle.org groups are partnering with thrift stores to put on free giveaways in parking lots.”

A fringe benefit, say many freecyclers, is adding to their friendship circle. Anita Legsdin in Seattle says, “I recently gave a small TV to a family who lives nearby and now every time they drive by my house, they always honk. In addition I’ve found a person I hadn’t seen in a while and got re-acquainted.”

Ava Pearson from the Springfield, Mo. freecycle group says,“We help people in many situations. I love Freecycle so very much. Not to mention, we have made a lot of friends being on here [which is] a bonus!”

Jon Bedrock of Seattle has a particularly poignant freecycling story. Her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer in August of 2005. After treatments, she was forced to spend the rest of her days in a hospice. When asked what she wanted to do with all her belongings that family members didn’t want, she said to her daughter, “What about that free whatever you’re always talking about?”

So Bedrock listed the entire contents of her mom’s apartment on freecycle,org, giving away everything, as she says, to “needy, interesting and downright crazy responders. It was quite an adventure.”

The best part, she says, was returning to the hospice and telling her mom of that day’s giveaway. A portable dishwasher went to a church group collecting items for an unwed mother; a bed with a new mattress went to a woman who was hosting Japanese exchange students; a bedroom set went to a young couple just starting out in life; a buffet went to young Marine Corps woman who wanted to learn about furniture restoration; a couch and rocker went to a divorced mom and her daughter who needed furniture.

“Her face would light up and she would laugh about the funny instances,” Bedrock recalls. “It made Mom feel good that her belongings would go on and not go the dump. . .”

Bedrock says her mother passed away soon after that, but freecyle was a highlight of her last days.

Marie Smith, a freecycler from Springfield, Mo., writes that she has a disabled friend who is homebound, but not receiving disability payments yet. She really wanted a computer. In most cases, the person in need of an item is responsible for picking it up, but one man took an interest in the woman’s plight. Smith says he drove a large distance to deliver the needed computer. Although the computer was dated, Smith says they were able to load some programs on it for letter-writing as well as games. They got a printer from freecycle and refilled the ink cartridges.

“Now my friend can write letters, write stories, play games, etc. And her teen daughter can type up homework on it.”

Kathy Ann Purdy of Beverly, Mass., used to enjoy rummaging through yard sales with her mother until one day in 2005, she discovered freecycle.org. She was renovating a house and heard about the online service where you could find and unload things for free.

“It’s fun,” says Purdy. “And it makes you feel like you’ve done something great for a neighbor.”

Through the years the couple has received a five-piece cherry wood bedroom set, a snowblower, a cement mixer, patio furniture, new carpeting as well as children’s clothing. But they’ve also been able to contribute needed items, in particular to a young couple who were burned out of their apartment.

“The couple got nearly everything they needed from kids’ clothing and toys to computer and stereo components,” says Purdy, who posted the couple’s needs on the website.

Freecycle.org is literally about give and take. Knighton of Seattle says he plans to give back when he and his wife are in a position to do so.

“Freecycle has been an incredible blessing. When this inveterate student finally gets a job, we will be delighted to return the blessings.”

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