'Buy Nothing' Facebook groups build community through giving

Through one Facebook group, Pat Antilli has invited people to pick her tiger lilies, borrowed a rototiller, lent patio furniture to someone with family coming to visit, and gotten rid of tricycles, children's clothing, a dog door and some PVC piping.

She asked to borrow a weedwhacker, but instead, a man came over and did her whole yard for her, asking only for a cup of iced tea in return.

And all of this happened without any exchange of money.

"We're so isolated now from each other with social media," Antilli said. But an international network of hyperlocal forums is using social media to connect people who may be separated by only a few streets, or even a few houses.

Having just moved back to East Lyme from the West Coast, and finding herself with duplicates and items she doesn't use, Antilli joined the Buy Nothing East Lyme, CT Facebook group, which resident Laura Llewellyn started in mid-June.

It's the latest Buy Nothing group in the region, with others existing for Ledyard/Gales Ferry/Groton, Stonington & North Stonington, Montville/Bozrah/Salem and New London.

According to the Buy Nothing Project website, there are more than 3,200 groups — located in all 50 states and in 22 other countries — though some listed have disbanded and some that exist aren't listed.

This movement grew from the first Buy Nothing group Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller founded in Bainbridge, Wash., in July 2013.

Their mission is: "We offer people a way to give and receive, share, lend, and express gratitude through a worldwide network of hyper-local gift economies in which the true wealth is the web of connections formed between people who are real-life neighbors."

The project's principle is to "give where you live," meaning those wanting to join a group will be asked about the cross streets near where they live, so the admins can ensure they live within the group's boundaries.

When Llewellyn first heard about the Buy Nothing Project, she tried to join the now-defunct Waterford group, but was denied because of her East Lyme address. So she went through the project's training — new groups can start every two weeks — and founded her own.

"It keeps the distance that people have to travel to gift and receive things, it keeps that local, and I think it just helps build community," Llewellyn said. "East Lyme is a very community-oriented place to start with, and I give that a lot of credit to why our group has really taken off."

Llewellyn posted about Buy Nothing East Lyme, CT in the East Lyme Community Forum and Niantic Beach Bums groups, and her group has grown to more than 380 members in just over three weeks.

She encourages those giving away items not just to respond to the first person who expresses interest, and those responding to a posted item to say what they would do with it.

When Llewellyn posted a plastic pitcher and four oversized wine glasses, she asked people to say what their favorite summer beverage is. She said other givers might choose a recipient by letting their kids pick or using a random number generator.

Llewellyn said the group is for giving away services as well as goods: She offered to teach people to crochet, one woman offered Latin tutoring sessions and another woman offered to show people blacksmithing.

The groups don't prohibit people from acquiring free things and reselling them, but the recipients are supposed to be transparent about their intent. Llewellyn indicated the group can be self-policing in this regard, in that if people figure out someone is a frequent reseller, they may stop giving things to that person.

Group member Stacey Wyeth, who knew Llewellyn from helping her buy her property in Niantic and from book club, said she has gifted apple cider vinegar shots, ink, planters and patio chairs.

She acquired items for hosting a baby shower, floor lamps and "some Christmas puzzles that I'm going to get to torture my family with."

Jill Karrenberg Crane joined the group because she's "really into sustainability, and kind of lowering our junk footprint," and this group brings the effort local and fosters new relationships. With four of her five kids out of high school, she has passed on some of their East Lyme High School athletic gear.

The Gales Ferry/Ledyard/Groton group, created in December 2015, is an active one, with more than 800 posts in the past month. In her 50s, co-admin Sue Hartmann said she likes the group because she's at a point where she wants to minimize and not "have a lot of stuff."

She gave away a rice cooker because she didn't need it after receiving an Instant Pot for Christmas, and clothes that no longer fit because she lost weight.

Hartmann said that recently, a woman going through some financial hardship asked for items for her child to go to camp with, and for some household staples like paper towels. She ended up with something like 50 messages from people wanting to help.

Groton resident Heather Holliday, who has been an admin of the group for about two years, said when one woman's daughter got sick and they no longer could make it to the North Pole Express in Essex, she offered her two tickets.

Holliday said the most common items to give or receive are clothes, books and baby items.

Through the group, she recently met someone who lives several houses down from her.

Holliday said, "The whole point of it is not the giving and the getting; it's the connections between the neighbors."

e.moser@theday.com

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