Just over a year ago, I had an idea. See, I'm a chronic "thing-thrower-outer" and I'm always organizing and getting rid of stuff. There's a local "g'mach" (kindness organization) that accepts clothing and furniture for the needy members of our local Jewish community, but they only accepted things in excellent condition, and often when I dropped stuff off, there was a sign that they were not accepting drop-offs as they needed to sort what was already there.
So I turned to the 'net. I posted a photo on my Facebook page of some shorts that my son had grown out of, added that they were up for grabs, and within a matter of seconds, a local friend gladly claimed them. WOW! This was instant. This was powerful.
After a bit of this, I realized that less than half my friends are local, and why did they all need to see my posts that only pertained to local friends? Plus, Maimonides' hierarchy of giving was on my mind, and I know that one should ideally give family members first, one's local community first, and one's fellow Jew, as we're supposed to look out for each other as family.
Hence, I created "Jewish Cleveland Freebay." Regular Facebook users know it takes about one minute to set up a Facebook group, and it took just a few more to add my local friends. They quickly added their friends, and boom! Jewish Cleveland Freebay was born. It's been an incredible ride, and so much good has come out of it. I've also learned a few tough lessons along the way.
Here's the good, the bad, and the ugly:
This group has brought people together, both online, and more importantly, IN PERSON, whose paths would never cross. People have to actually go to people's homes to pick up their goods, much like Craigslist but with a little more security (we hope). Jewish Cleveland of all random stripes are interacting! Meeting! Talking! Giving! Sharing! It's a beautiful thing.
2. Giving Jewish
I've had so many people ask me, before Freebay, "Are there any Jewish families who could use my old dining room table?" Because otherwise it was going to the Salvation Army or some other wonderful cause - but folks wanted to try and service their own communities where possible. Of course, I didn't usually know off-hand who needed what, so it often did go to a generic cause. In this new format, the givers knew that their donations were benefiting the community.
Due to the nature of the internet, stuff could be received just when it was needed. I took out my bin of boots from my attic, and when I was done sorting what my own kids needed, and what I still wanted to save for my kids' future, I posted the rest. The SAME day I felt like I needed boots, I could post my extras, and others could receive them, so the recipients' needs were met seasonally. I can't even count how many winter coats people got for free just as the season was starting. It was a beautiful sight. I mean, seriously, someone's glasses broke in the middle of the night; she posted her prescription and had a pair loaned to her by morning.
4. Mutual Gratitude
People are so grateful for their free stuff! And the givers are so grateful for their stuff to be unloaded! This gratitude jumps right off my smartphone. It's palpable. I've had people stop me at community events to thank me for starting Freebay!
Sometimes you'll see more than one person wanting to claim the same thing. They'll get in line, or offer to share. I love that.
The Bad and the Ugly:
Listen. People are people. And they're going to take their flaws into any arena they enter. So you'll see, on Freebay:
People will private message me that others are getting "too much stuff." Or claiming things too quickly.
I was going to call this "greed" but I really don't feel that it is. You'll see some people claiming multiple things - those that are frequently online and able to. I don't think they mean to be grabby, but they're possibly not being as thoughtful as possible.
3. True Need
It's been tricky for me to determine if this is a "tzedaka" site or not. It's not need-based - anyone can claim anything. Besides, who knows who is actually in "need" and who is not?? No one. I have been asked if it's a tzedaka site over and over again, and while it's not, technically, it's still a mitzvah. Right?
At first the group was "open" which meant anyone could join and see the posts. Oh, la, la, that hippie in me. I had to "close" the group and more carefully monitor who joined when someone was being verbally abused on the site. Now I'm stuck deciding who gets to join and who doesn't. Yuck! That's not what I asked for. I do my best, and still get private messages questioning my judgment. I'm doing my best. Which brings me to the final point:
5. Getting Flak
After turning down someone who doesn't live in Cleveland, I got virtually yelled on online by this woman. It wasn't so fun. I don't get paid to run this group. It's for the benefit of the Jewish community here in Cleveland. But it just reinforced a core Jewish concept: you can stay in your own little circle of the world, not take any risks, and never get yelled at. Or you could put yourself out there, be vulnerable, open yourself up to criticism, and accomplish.
I choose the latter. It's worth it.
Why don't you start a Freebay for your community?