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Buy Nothing Groups Across Tampa Bay Area Foster Community During COVID-19

Vilmaris Conigliaro stands next to coffee machine
Courtesy: Vilmaris Conigliaro
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Vilmaris Conigliaro is one of the administrators for the New Tampa/Tampa Palms Buy Nothing group. She got this coffee machine for free through the group, which is part of the larger Buy Nothing Project, which aims to create local groups where neighbors can give away or search for items for free.

Facebook groups across Tampa Bay are dedicated to getting rid of unwanted items or finding items at no cost. They have created connections during a time of isolation.

Kimberley Asante has always been a giver.

So when she learned about the Buy Nothing Project, she quickly joined her local group and began donating items.

Then she got sick while pregnant and had to be hospitalized for the majority of her pregnancy. She couldn’t work, her husband lost his job, their hospital bills were piling up, and she didn’t have anything for her new baby. So for the first time, Asante asked for help.

“I got so many offers and so many things — I get emotional thinking about it,” said Asante, a member of the Tampa Palms/New Tampa group.. “Everything I needed for my baby was just gifted for, I want to say a year. A bed, bedsheets, a bathtub, basically everything I needed for my baby.”

The Buy Nothing Project consists of local Facebook groups where neighbors post items they want to get rid of and items that they are looking for, and no money is exchanged. The project started in Washington in 2013, and now has groups across the globe — including nine in the greater Tampa Bay region.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Tampa-area Buy Nothing groups have grown and even multiplied.

Young children play with toys
Courtesy: Kimberley Asante
Kimberley Asante's children play with toys she got from her local Buy Nothing Group. There are nine Buy Nothing groups with almost 2,000 members in the Tampa Bay area.

While other groups shut down at the beginning of the pandemic, Maria Wilson, an administrator for several groups in South Tampa, said she knew the community the groups provided would be more important than ever. She says it is a safe and friendly place on social media and credits the positive environment with the fact that giving is not based on need.

“Everyone is deserving of receiving a gift and everyone has gifts to give, no matter how small,” Wilson said. “There's no judgment about who is giving and who's receiving. We're just being generous to each other and grateful to each other.”

Wilson has found gifting incredibly rewarding and has given away hundreds of items herself.

“You know that little endorphin rush you get when you go shopping, and you find the perfect item?” Wilson said. “I get a similar endorphin rush when I have something to give that is no longer needed or useful to me, but I find someone who’s excited to receive it. It's the same sort of positive, warm, fuzzy feeling, and it is addicting.”

For Wilson, the pandemic has changed the process of gifting.

Young boy sits at the bottom of a slide
Courtesy: Kimberley Asante
One of Kimberley Asante's children plays on a slide she got on her local Buy Nothing group. She finds that the community that she gets from the group is worth more than any money she could make selling instead of giving away her items.

Before COVID-19, she would chat with whoever was coming to pick up the item, but now she just leaves it outside. However, Vilmaris Conigliaro, who started her neighborhood’s Buy Nothing group with another woman during the pandemic in the Tampa Palms/New Tampa area, says even with contactless pickups, the groups have connected neighbors — including her personally.

“We foster children, and when we get kids, we don’t have sizes of everything, and one lady had posted something that we needed,” Conigliaro said. “She gives me her address, and I’m like, wait a minute, I live literally around the corner from you, and we’ve never met. So that is the whole point of the group — to meet neighbors in your area.”

Beth Reed, Conigliaro’s co-administrator, said people have been seeking the connection the groups provide during the pandemic.

“There’s not really a whole lot of neighborhood block parties and barbeques and such going on right now and hasn’t been for a year, which is ludicrous. We’re not meant to live in isolation,” Reed said. “I think people are definitely looking on Facebook for keywords of their neighborhood or ZIP code, looking for stuff to connect them back to other humans.”

While connecting neighbors is an aspect of the project that many members love, it has faced criticism for stratifying neighborhoods — and therefore groups — racially.

In 2018, this criticism came to a boiling point when the Buy Nothing Project in Jamaica Plain, Mass., decided to “sprout,” or divide, a group into smaller more local groups due to the sheer number of members. After criticism that new groups seemed to be racially divided, members were kicked off, admins were changed, and the group was eventually shut down by the founders.

Woman reads a book with two children on her lap
Courtesy: Kimberley Asante
Kimberley Asante has gotten many items for her two children from her local Buy Nothing group including most of their toys and a crib. While she joined the group to give items when she and her husband ran into some financial struggles during her second pregnancy, they were able to get most of their supplies for their new baby from the group.

The founders recently overhauled the project and rewrote the code of conduct to address concerns about racism. When Wilson’s group sprouted, one of the biggest deciding factors was the ability to share the group's resources in a more equitable way.

“That’s why expanding to the neighborhoods north of us was so important to us as an admin team,” Wilson said. “We wanted to make sure that the project is becoming available to more neighbors who might benefit from it.”

Asante is personally trying to get more of her neighbors involved in the project, even going so far as posting for them on her account.

“I just wish everyone would get in that same mindset of, if you’re considering selling something — let’s say a crib for $10. Consider donating it because that money is nothing compared to the love you get back,” Asante said. “It might sound like losing, but actually the feeling of community and the feeling of giving, and maybe even one day being in need and someone being able to help you, that is so much more meaningful than collecting that kind of money.”

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