Freecycle takes aim at unwanted stuff

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Fog lifts off from atop the Grant County landfill near Ephrata Friday morning. Freecycle enthusiasts say the online group helps keep unwanted, yet usable items out of the trash heap.

MOSES LAKE - If your budget is tighter than usual or you are looking to help with the environment, there is an option with Grant County Freecycle.

The Yahoo! web group is geared toward anyone from the resident looking rid themselves of that somewhat battered but still comfy couch, to the new parent searching out gently worn baby clothes boxed up in someone else's basement.

The concept is simple. People sign up to receive messages about items up for grabs or to post their own unwanted stuff. Group members communicate directly with each other via email, and make arrangements for pickup or delivery when they see something they like.

While there are a few etiquette guidelines - no politics and no spam, for instance - there's one cardinal rule: Everything must be free, no strings attached.

The Freecycle Network sprouted eight years ago from a grass roots beginning in Tucson, Ariz., where  a man named Deron Beal set up an email group to get and give alike with a few dozen friends, according to the organization's web site.

"Our mission is to build a worldwide gifting movement that reduces waste, saves precious resources and eases the burden on our landfills while enabling our members to benefit from the strength of a larger community," the site states. "As a result, we are currently keeping over 500 tons a day out of landfills."

Beal's original concept of "changing the world one gift at a time" has now spread to 85 countries, where about 8.8 million members participate in more than 5,000 groups.

Grant County's own Freecycle group formed in 2004 and now has about 600 members.

"It started as a way to keep things out of the landfill and now it's a place where everything is free," said current Grant County Freecycle site manager Tami Hayes. "It's a way to help each other. There are so many things out there people don't realize would be so useful to other families."

A quick tour of Hayes' Moses Lake home reveals several items gleaned from Freecycle over the past six years, including a Christmas tree and her doe-eyed dog Bella, a pup listed by a Soap Lake resident who found her abandoned on the street.

Hayes said much more important than the things she's received from Freecycle are the countless items she's given away.

She's listed everything from stacks of used egg cartons to a 52-inch television that has a slight picture problem, all in an effort to encourage other users to post their own unwanted items.

"I want people to realize everything has a value, even those non-working Christmas lights I put on there," she said.

While three people wanted the lights, Hayes ended up giving them to a guy named Ivan who told her he planned to repair them and donate them to people he knows.

"He wanted to give me a donation for the website and I said there's no need for that. This isn't about money," Hayes said.

As with anything else, there are always those who try to abuse Freecycle, Hayes said. Some people request services through the site or are only interested in getting things for free they might be able to resell elsewhere.

"Someone yesterday asked to be part of the group because they're always looking for free stuff," Hayes said. "That's not really the point."

In response to this she now asks new members to introduce themselves to the group by gifting a few items before requesting anything for themselves.

Group member Ranee Mueller said from her perspective, Freecycle is primarily about keeping things out of the trash, but it's also about helping others in the community. By way of example she recalls one group member's post requesting items for a neighbor who had lost everything in a house fire. People responded by giving in droves.

Mueller, who moved to Moses Lake a few years ago, said Freecycle introduced her to new people and has helped her family out on many occasions, such as the summer they arrived, when she and her husband didn't have time to start their own garden.

"We really appreciated so many people offered their excess produce," she said. "That was a very nice thing, that we were able to have fresh garden produce that year even though we were unable to do it ourselves."

Like Hayes, Mueller relates several stories of reciprocal giving, including the hand-me-down moving boxes she found on Freecycle, used herself, and then posted again for someone else. Another time they needed a vent hood for their stove and found a new one, still in the box, offered gratis.

"You never really know what you can find on there," she said.

When asked why she wouldn't choose to sell a big ticket item, like a jogging stroller she recently gave away that likely would have fetched a couple $20 bills elsewhere, Mueller said it's partly about passing it forward, but it's also a question of convenience.

"Especially early in our marriage, we didn't have a lot and it was helpful to us that other people thought of us or gave things to us and we could get things for free," she said. "And now, sometimes it's more of a hassle to sell things than it is just to give it away to somebody. Maybe it's taking up space and I can help someone else with relatively little trouble to myself."

Sheila Chism has been a Grant County Freecycle devotee for about two years, ever since she was looking for a way to part with some long-neglected kids items.

"I thought, 'What am I going to do with all this?'" she said. "I went on the Internet, found Freecycle, put some things on there and within minutes they were gone. It's been a tremendously helpful place."

Chism likes that the site has firm rules about posting and is well-monitored for user-security. She also appreciates the regular updates regarding what's on offer, what's been promised and what's no longer available.

While she's received her fair share of Freecycle freebies over the years, including enough sod to cover some bare patches on her front lawn, Chism said she gets more joy in discovering things she might be able to give away to others, such as the Christmas she gave away a bunch of toys to a needy family with kids, or the time she dusted off an unused yet perfectly usable microwave for a couple who couldn't otherwise have afforded one.

"It make's you feel good to help others and eventually it will help you too if you need something," she said. "Why let this stuff just sit in your house? If you don't need it, get rid of it."

For more information on Grant County Freecycle send an email to GrantCountyWAFreecycle-owner@yahoogroups.com.

Grant County Freecycle group manager Tami Hayes, left, chats with Freecycle member Ranee Mueller last week about a slightly damaged big screen television Hayes plans to offer, for free, on the site.

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