Through modern technology, we can now have constant access to people and information, but are we developing authentic, reality-based relationships? Some suggest that in spite of our digital hyper-connectivity, we are, in fact, becoming more isolated. Online groups, which are centered on giving locally, are helping people make these connections, across the web and across town.

             One online group, Buy Nothing (BN) Pittsford, which operates through Facebook, allows people within a specific geographical area, typically a town or a neighborhood, to connect within a gift-based economy. Uniquely, nothing is to be bought or sold in this group, ever. Everything must be absolutely free. Members post “gifts,” which can be anything from actual items such as toys, lightbulbs or clothing to gifts of self (like shoveling a driveway), gifts of talent (such as offering a free guitar lesson) and gifts of time (such as offering to be a jogging partner). Members can also post requests searching for things they need or want. Members can offer to lend or request to borrow items, too. This gift-based economy creates a unique giving experience.

             Pittsford group founder Christine Winchester notes that she particularly enjoys seeing group members asking for something, then seeing that need or wish be met. Her fellow group administrator Stephanie agrees. “I love the feeling that beyond donating you can gift something to someone who really wants it and can use it,” explains Stephanie, describing how giving through Buy Nothing differs from other methods. Also unique is BN’s continual encouragement for its members to wait before choosing whom to select to receive an item they have posted. Says Christine, “One behavior we try to encourage is letting a post sit for 24 hours rather than just choosing the first response. This allows people who are not able to reply the quickest to have a chance, too. There is no right or wrong way to choose a recipient of the gift, you can choose them for whatever reason.” Christine and Stephanie also state that this purposeful delay at times allows members to connect with a member they otherwise would not have. This connection is one of BN Pittsford’s greatest goals.

             Christine explains that groups like hers are “hyperlocal,” that is, each BN group is centered around a specific town or neighborhood, and only people who live within that town or neighborhood can be accepted into that specific BN group. Therefore, members are also neighbors, and the giving and taking starts building a greater sense of connection across the community. As Stephanie says, “I live in a particular part of town where I have everything I need nearby. BN lets me go into, see and explore other parts of my community as I am either dropping off or picking up items. It has been a very good experience.” Members like Stephanie are meeting their real-life neighbors, as well, and the Pittsford group, started in July 2017, has already burgeoned to 570 members. Christine remembers when it was just an idea.

“I was inspired partly out of a desire to embrace minimalism in my own life,” Christine recalls, describing the appeal that reducing waste through free gifting held for her. “Also, I have a heart for my community, and I am very empathetic and caring about the people around me. It is so important to me to build those connections with my neighbors.” Stephanie adds that she came to the group a little later. “When I moved here, I saw Buy Nothing Pittsford on Facebook and joined it. I loved the community feel. I have made friends, explored Pittsford; there are a lot of positives.”

             In fact, the friendship between these two women is itself a testament to the community building effects of BN groups. As Christine shares, “Stephanie was an early member who reached out to me this past fall and asked if I would like some help administrating the group. I made her Co-Admin.” Stephanie chuckles a bit as she remembers, “I saw that our group was getting big, and I thought that Christine would probably need some assistance.” When reflecting on what it was like becoming the Co-Admin, Stephanie shares, “I was a little nervous just learning, but now I love it. Christine has taught me so much.” Who can say if these kind, generous and inspiring ladies, neighbors, ever would have met each other had it not been for a BN group?

             While it hasn’t been completely smooth sailing, both Christine and Stephanie state that issues are rare, and they have established a positive group culture. “Our group is a really helpful and positive place,” says Stephanie. Christine concurs, recalling a particularly heartwarming story. “There was this one couple that have since moved out of the area that posted to Buy Nothing Pittsford about 9 months after the group started. The wife was getting rid of quite a bit of clothing. I reached out to her personally aside from the group and asked her if she needed any help. We ended up having coffee, and she shared her personal story about her health struggles and she and her husband were not in a state of health such that they could handle dealing with the things in their home. They had end-of-life plans, including moving to another country.  A few of us decided to help her clean out her home and her things and help the couple downsize. Then, the BN Pittsford community rallied around this couple. Our members, their own neighbors, helped them clean out their home, ready it for sale, make their big move happen and achieve their end of life plan dreams.” “It organically grew into this beautiful, naturally reciprocal relationship of love and generosity,” says Stephanie, warmly.

             When looking to the future of BN Pittsford, Christine and Stephanie hope to encourage more “Gratitude Posts,” which simply express thankfulness, on the group page. They also plan to encourage members to gift more of themselves, their talents and their time. Stephanie believes this may be particularly needful on voting week and will work to encourage it then. “Several Monroe County communities have BN groups,” says Christine. “We encourage people to check their area and see if there is one to join. If there isn’t, start one!” Stephanie echoes this sentiment. “It is really rewarding. I love being a part of this. When Christine added me as an Admin, I was so excited! There is so much joy in giving and receiving and seeing people give and receive and knowing we are making a green impact, as well.”

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