Freecycle Cafe helps households swap stuff

Published April 15, 2005

A new cafe in Brandon is taking the guesswork out of what to do with household items you no longer need. But this cafe is not full of dim lights, colorful bar stools and tasty treasures.

Brandon Freecycle Cafe is a free online exchange service.

Founder Lisa Conn started the Brandon/Valrico chapter in July as a way to match people looking to discard things with people who can put the items to better use. Pictures of the items are posted online so recipients can see what they're actually getting.

"I thought it would be neat to have maybe 50 people exchanging items," said Conn, who lives in Bloomingdale and began as a member of the Tampa chapter. "I had no idea it would grow this large."

The Brandon/Valrico chapter now has more than 1,300 members. The next closest chapter, in Plant City, has 300-plus members, and there are more than 1-million members nationwide.

According to the Web site (www.freecycle.org) the organization started in Tucson, Ariz., in May 2003 as a grass roots movement to reduce the city's waste and to help save desert landscape from being taken over by landfills.

While mostly household items are listed, people often give away children's clothes, toys, maternity items, lawn mowers, lamps, furniture, pet items, air conditioners and artwork. Conn said she even saw a car listed once.

Though the main purpose of the site is to keep things out of landfills, members also look for a good mechanic or plumber, or simply share "freecycling" tips. About 200 members participate in the cafe section, where they chat within the list during the day by e-mailing back and forth.

As moderator, Conn makes sure everything runs smoothly and that members abide by site rules. No firearms or prescription drugs may be posted, and all listings must be appropriate for all ages. Conn, along with six co-moderators, approves listings and makes sure the messages get posted as soon as possible.

"The majority of people want to get rid of (their item) quickly," Conn said.

Every few weeks Conn holds a themed drive, and the person who offers the most for that challenge is designated the spotlight member of the week. At Christmas, the group held a toy drive for needy children. For Easter, she posted a Hop to It incentive for members to offer as many Easter items that they don't need.

"Just about everybody that I talk to is thrilled with (the group)," Conn said. "You can't imagine how it feels when you give something because of your kindness and not want anything in return."

Of course, members also may post requests for items. That's a part of the cycle in giving and receiving freely. With more than a thousand members, requests are granted relatively quickly.

"You want to find a good home for your item," Conn said. "That inspires people to list more and more."

- Meaghan Forbes can be reached at 661-2439 or mforbes@sptimes.com


To become a Freecycle member, log on to www.freecycle.org or e-mail Lisa Conn at freecycle.mod.brandon@gmail.com