Clackamas County’s many successful farmers markets and small businesses attest to the popularity of buying products locally. The Buy Nothing Project takes our desire for those local connections to another level.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Oregon City Buy Nothing Project Group Administrator Elizabeth Makhobey (right) is pictured with Kim Cellarius, a past OC group administrator.With the motto “Buy Nothing. Give Freely. Share Creatively” this organization promotes “a hyperlocal gift economy” in which the residents of a specific neighborhood or small city exchange items and services free of charge. Friends Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller founded the BNP after creating an experimental exchange community in Bainbridge, Washington. Two-and-a-half years later, the organization has 1,300 groups across 18 countries with over 280,000 members and 1,700 volunteers, according to its website.

All the BNP groups make exchanges through closed Facebook groups.

There are established groups in Oregon City, Milwaukie, Jennings Lodge/Gladstone and Happy Valley, as well as several in Portland neighborhoods and other parts of the state.

The key is that you can only join the BNP group where you live, people can only belong to one chapter at a time, and members must be 21 years or older. These are the most enforced rules, along with the expectation to “be civil” to others.

“We verify [eligibility information] when members request membership, and we do so by privately messaging them,” Milwaukie group administrator Breanna Rebischke said.

Rebischke has been a member of her local Buy Nothing group since spring of 2015, shortly after the Milwaukie chapter was created, and became one of its administrators in September of the same year. BNP’s website has an extensive list of suggestions and rules for conducting exchanges through the local groups.

For example, members can post requests and offerings, but they cannot trade or barter, which would require IRS involvement. Members cannot ask others to sign petitions, direct people to other organizations or ask for monetary charity donations. Members also cannot use abbreviations or delete past posts for the sake of efficiency, as a part of the BNP’s mission to promote real personal interaction and a community narrative.

Rebischke has observed that the nearly 450 members of the Milwaukie group are respectful and civil, for the most part. In the Oregon City group with over 800 members, group administrator Elizabeth Makhobey said she sees someone violate the rules about every other day.

“Not everyone in our group understands the concept of what we are,” Makhobey said. “Some really understand, and others just think it’s another free group. We strive each week to convey we are about the community connections and not what we can get from other members” for free.

Makhobey found BNP through the Oregon City Chit Chat Group Page and has been a member since around November 2015. She became a co-administrator in April after other admins asked her to replace one who was stepping down. She currently is looking for a new administrative partner for the group.

Both admins said they post in their separate groups often, and in general, the groups are very active. Rebischke estimated that the Milwaukie group members post 10 to 50 posts a day, including many thank you posts between receiving and giving members. Makhobey said the Oregon City group boosts interaction through activities like Wishful Wednesday, Throwback Thursday and Fat Chance Friday, among others.

The Oregon City group receives up to 10 requests to join each day, Makhobey said. Often locals hear of the BNP chapter through other Facebook pages and local groups or by word of mouth.

What does being a local administrator entail?

Facebook groups for Oregon admins and another for those across the country enable these organizers to ask and answer questions, share concerns and brainstorm new ideas for local group activities. Rebischke said admins communicate regularly, and the larger organization makes improvements based on local member and admin suggestions.

“My time [spent doing BNP activities] varies,” Makhobey said. “I get alerts anytime anyone posts to the group so when I have an opportunity during a break, lunch or relaxing at home, I take a glance to make sure it is following within the guidelines. I also handle all the membership requests and verifying they are within the BN Oregon City border. I do verifications at least once a day.”

Giving inspires caring

Makhobey’s BNP admin role is a volunteer position she takes on aside from working full-time and caring for her grandmother. But the meaningful effect the BNP has on Makhobey’s life is well worth the extra work. Its community has helped her grow as a person, she said.

“The BNP has affected me by showing me there is still good in the world unlike what you see on the news these days,” Makhobey said. “It has taught me ways to repurpose and reuse certain things. ... I have given things as big as a wedding dress and exercise bike to small things like glass jars and egg cartons. I have used the group to work on cleaning out my house, interacting with others, and also helping others who are in need of certain things that maybe aren’t a part of the group.”

Makhobey describes a number of friends she has met through the Oregon City BNP group. She recalled meeting a BNP member to exchange gifts only to find out the woman’s mother had just been diagnosed with cancer and was not doing well emotionally.

“I was a shoulder to vent,” Makhobey said. “She [was] trying to stay strong, but just needed to talk it out in the middle of the old Kmart parking lot.”

Later, at a BNP rummage sale, Makhobey found out this woman’s mother was able make it to her granddaughter’s high school graduation.

Makhobey said she has received produce from another woman a few times, and they talked for at least an hour during the exchange. She was amazed that this woman, who has fibromyalgia and diabetes that make it hard to get out of bed some days, stills finds time to help others with her gifts.

“I could probably type for days on all the connections and different interactions I’ve had with members — each one tells a different story, but the end result [is that] it is all about the community coming together and making connections,” Makhobey said.

Rebischke shares Makhobey’s passion for the connections made through tight-knit gift-giving communities and believes the BNP has been extremely beneficial in her life.

“I had always been blown away from the concept of gifting items instead of selling them,” Rebischke said. “I felt like [this project’s hyperlocal gifting economy] was in alignment with my beliefs of recycling and reducing an imprint on the planet.”

Rebischke said she also has met neighbors, learned more about her community, and made many friends she now connects with outside of Facebook through her local BNP group. She also has become friends with members of BNP groups in other areas.

Why is it important to have alternative, nonmonetary-based exchange economies like the BNP?

Rebischke lists practical purposes like emptying her house of clutter. She also includes an environmental reason: giving things to people who want the items decreases the amount of trash thrown out.

She emphasizes the community-building goal that is central to the BNP’s mission.

“I think it’s important to ... share in our abundance, because we live in a day and age where corporations are benefiting from people’s hard-earned dollars and aren’t often giving back to the community at large,” Rebischke said. “We see that we have our own abundance of items and services that can be freely shared with our neighbors.”

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