Friday, July 9, 2021

The Sprout


Today the online group which in many ways got me through the pandemic and a year and a half of illness will be no more. Buy Nothing East Columbia will be archived. Its members have been posting gratitude and farewells for the last several days. A reminder to my readers about Buy Nothing:

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.

Fear not, good friends, it is not dead. It is only sprouting.

Sprouting is the term for what happens when the membership of a Buy Nothing group becomes so large as to be unwieldy. Our group, which has grown to over 1700 members during the pandemic, will be sprouting into three new groups based on the geography of where people live. So, each new group will be smaller and also hyperlocal. The term “micro communities” was used by an admin.

I’ve been thinking a lot over the last several days about my experiences as a part of this community. These people have become my neighbors in ways that my actual, physical neighbors have never been. That made me think about some things I jotted down when I listened to the Elevate Maryland episode with Hahrie Han, “Belonging Before Belief.”

People tend to think that in movements belief comes before belonging. We find, actually, that belonging comes before belief. People have to feel connected to each other. They have to feel in relationship with other people in a community and then that becomes the base in which belief evolves. The relationship comes first.

This has certainly been true in my experience with Buy Nothing East Columbia. Members grow over time in ways to give freely and share creatively. It’s not merely a place to give and get stuff. Some examples:

Hilarity amongst members reached new heights as the use of bananas as a unit of measurement in photographs took on a life of its own. But when a member revealed a serious allergy to bananas, almost everyone switched over to other ways to indicate size - - television remotes, Sharpie markers, and even small children (if the item was large.) 

Members have created a collection of traveling birthday balloons, the Mylar kind that spell out things. There’s also a collection of jigsaw puzzles. When a member and her son were diagnosed with COVID they received contactless drop-offs of food and other necessary items. Buy Nothing folks helped organize drive-by birthday celebrations for the children of people they had never met. 

Of all the gifts that passed through our group, the one that moved me the most was when a distraught member, on the eve of a major holiday, revealed that she did not have the ingredients or even a recipe for a dish which she had only just discovered was esssential to her husband and in-laws. The way that group members stepped in and offered both material gifts as well as gifts of knowledge and emotional support was beautiful. 

This is community.

Our admin team has been consistently fabulous. This kind of group truly can’t run without caring, consistent, and creative administration. I ran afoul of the rules once by attempting to give away a bottle of wine we received with a meal from Nora’s. I received a very nice private message informing me that Facebook doesn’t permit gifts of alcohol. I never felt squashed or admonished. 

As for me, two top memories are the day when I thought my pizza dough purchased from Wegmans was going to explode and begged someone to come take it away (they did) and the incredibly sweet person who hand-delivered an adhesive hook to me so I could hang my daughter’s long-lost Christmas stocking. Our group has functioned with love and humor. I never lost the enjoyment of reading other people’s Gratitude Posts where they showed what they had done with a gifted item and how much it meant to them.

In Howard County we have a special leadership program which has become an almost essential rite of passage for those looking to take meaningful leadership roles. (Leadership Howard County) And in the state of Maryland there is a dedicated group for encouraging and preparing women for stepping into political life. (Emerge) I’d like to suggest that we also have a local group that fosters community in an an ongoing and meaningful way: Buy Nothing.

Back to Hahrie Han:

…the work that is most important is often the work that is invisible. It’s that invisible work where people develop the kind of habits and skills that it takes to work with eachother to solve problems that we can’t see.

In our modern world where we are so often disconnected from our neighbors, Buy Nothing brings us together in a rather revolutionary way: in giving. In this group we are not merely consumers targeted by purveyors of goods to convince us to part with our money. We are neighbors and friends who will find a way for eachother when finding a way may feel impossible.

So now we sprout. And new adventures await. 

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