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What's gone has come again

The Freecycle Network, particularly useful during the holidays, lets people pass off items to others who can better use them.

Published December 24, 2005

[Times photos: Stephen J. Coddington]
Denise Johnson, 43, of Crystal River and her granddaughter Jasmine Cason, 2 1/2, are looking forward to a merry Christmas thanks to the Freecycle Network's generous members. After Johnson posted on the Web site seeking gifts for Jasmine, area residents responded by donating toys, books and clothes. Even Santa is scheduled to visit this afternoon.
At home Friday, Johnson is surrounded by the presents that Freecycle members gave her granddaughter Jasmine. "I asked strangers for help with Christmas for my granddaughter. ... But Freecycle is awesome."

"I am fighting to just pay my bills," the online note said. "I have a 21/2-year-old granddaughter that I need a few presents under the tree for. So she has something to open from Grannie. ... She is too young to understand, so I need to come up with something. ... It's been a hard year, and just need an angel or two over my shoulder. Thanks in advance for any help you may be able to give me."

It was signed by Denise.

The e-mail handle was JasminesGrannie.

Denise Johnson is 43 and disabled, lives in a small mobile home in Crystal River and brings in $553 a month with food stamps and alimony payments. She posted the message earlier this month on the Citrus County Freecycle Network Web site. That was after Jasmine Cason asked her if Santa was coming to Grannie's house this year.

Tonight, on Christmas Eve, the little girl will have bags of Barbie dolls, books and toys - all courtesy of a handful of folks from around the North Suncoast who saw the post and did something about it. One man is even going to come by to play Santa.

Johnson is one of the many people this year using the still relatively new phenomenon of so-called "freecycling" in lieu of, or in addition to, the more regular form of Christmas shopping.

"I'm not real proud of it. I'm actually embarrassed," she said. "But that's what the people on Freecycle are all about.

"This is what Christmas is all about." is kind of like eBay without the exchange of money.

Deron Beal started it May 1, 2003, in Tucson, Ariz., and his mission statement was this: "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."

Now there are 1.8-million members who post on a network of more than 3,200 local Yahoo groups and this year gifted more than 100-million pounds of anything and everything.

In this area, the Tampa group, with more than 5,000 members, has the largest membership of any Freecycle site in Florida. Brooksville, meanwhile, with more than 1,000 members, has the largest membership of any Freecycle site on the North Suncoast.

Most sites have a spike in activity around the holidays, said Beal, Freecycle's executive director: first just before Christmas, he said, and then immediately after as people try to get rid of stuff they don't like or need.

Brooksville site administrator Bill Keiser said there's a "definite holiday bulge. "I think for a lot of families - if they can come up with gifts they wouldn't be able to otherwise, I have no problem with that," he said.

"It only takes one member," Beal said by phone from Tucson. "It really promotes the gift of giving at Christmas. It's about community spirit and helping each other - particularly during this season."

In Spring Hill, Connie Roberts, 42, got a desk off Freecycle, which helped her save enough money to buy her daughter, Samantha, 7, a new computer.

In Zephyrhills, Chris Meier, 43, got a digital camera off Freecycle for her 13-year-old son, Brandon, and a cell phone for her husband, Pete, a car mechanic in Tampa.

And in Crystal River, 21/2-year-old Jasmine Cason is going to have "one heck of a Christmas," Denise Johnson said.

Someone named Heather gave a bunch of toys.

Someone named Paula gave decorations.

Ann Warren gave toys and books and clothes. The 56-year-old from Lecanto has a 3-year-old granddaughter who has new toys and has gotten too big for the outfits. She dropped all of it off at Johnson's home.

"She had me crying," Warren said.

Johnson calls her granddaughter Jazz or Jazzie or Munchkin or My Girl or Grannie's Girl. All told, she's going to be getting Barbies, books, toys, crayons, chalk, a purse, a winter jacket, tiny black high-tops, a sack of stuffed animals, and a red, white and blue Fisher-Price bike with training wheels.

Ray Seely, 65, a retired medical technologist who lives in Inglis, is dressing up as Santa and is scheduled to show up about 4 p.m. today with a hobby horse, a box of blocks and a teddy bear - stuff he got off Freecycle.

"This is something I can do," Seely said.

Johnson called it all "overwhelming."

"I asked strangers for help with Christmas for my granddaughter. Total strangers," she said. "They didn't know who I was. But Freecycle is awesome. I'm telling you: It's great.

"It has helped so many people. What people have is so much of what people need. And people are just ... there are great people."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Michael Kruse can be reached at 352 848-1434 or

[Last modified December 24, 2005, 01:09:13]

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