Monday, November 15, 2010

I Dig Freestores!

Saturday was the first gathering of LAfreestore. The LAfreestore is the project of Krisha, a student of Sustainability Studies at Cal Poly Pomona. It is a community exchange designed to bring together members of the community by the sharing of goods, services, smiles and great conversation. This type of exchange is good for many reasons. It's good for the environment since it keeps usable goods out of landfills. It's good for the soul because when we give to others we give ourselves something equally valuable. It's good for the community since it provides people a place to gather and exchange all sorts of ideas and things.

The origins of LAfreestore can be traced way back to the Digger movement in England in the 1600's. The Diggers were an agrarian, communal society, so called because they grew their own food. They began as the "True Levellers", a protestant movement that got their economically egalitarian views from a passage in the Book of Acts. The Digger colonies were completely wiped out by wealthy, influential groups of Landowners by 1650. The movement resurfaced in San Francisco in the 1960's, led by a bunch of improv actors and activists. They opened up stores where they gave away goods, services, medical care, transportation and temporary housing for free. They also prepared "Digger Stew" from donated and stolen vegetables and meat, and fed anyone who was hungry. From there, Freestores popped up in other cities throughout the sixties, with the largest in New York.

My friend and I had heard about the event through someone else, and we were not quite sure what to expect. Being big fans of Freecycle, which is an online version of the Freestore, we wanted to check it out. We gathered together some used clothes and shoes, paperback books and toiletry items in tote bags and set out. This first gathering was held in the Eagle Rock section of Los Angeles, in the parking lot of the Casa Princesa Cafe.

When we arrived, we were greeted by friendly volunteers who took our items to place out on the tables. We could look around and take anything we wanted. No money changed hands. We were encouraged to wear tags naming any skills we could offer to other community members, such as babysitting, housecleaning, Reiki massage or even telling a good joke! These name tags were intended to start discussion between us, and it worked! Before long we were chatting with each other, helping each other to pick out clothes, telling jokes and sharing stories.

All of the items were clean and in good condition. I was surprised by the variety of stuff available. There were children's and adult's clothes, food, shoes, books, jewelry, CD's and movies, housewares, toiletries, even some seed packets! Next time I'm going to bring containers of seeds I've saved from my garden! We didn't stay very long, but the event was scheduled to last until 2:00 and a band was scheduled to play later. At the time we were there, there were about 30 people, but the idea is that people come and go throughout the day, so I'm sure many more than that were in attendance.

Right now, the intention is to hold these events twice a year. If you are interested in volunteering, or just want more information, you can visit the website: or follow the group on Facebook: A few pictures of the event have already been posted on Facebook, and people are sharing their finds. Watch for the date and location of the next gathering! Hope to see you there! If you are not in the LA area, why not consider starting up such an event in your own community? I'm sure you would find it to be a very rewarding experience!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

When Times Are Tight, Give Thanks For What's Going Right!

Times are hard, and many of us are feeling down. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, let's take time this year to be thankful for the things that are going right in our lives. Are all of your family members healthy, or has someone recently recovered after a long illness? Are the kids doing well in school? Are you still in the family home? Do you still have a job? Are you receiving unemployment or food benefits which are keeping your family from being truly destitute? Does your family have active military members who are safe, although they are far from home? Do you have a lot of supportive, nurturing friendships that you treasure? Things may not be perfect, but let's still not forget to count our blessings.

There are many ways of incorporating this into the holiday celebration. My sister has a small fabric memo board with ribbons to hold the messages. This year we are going to put out a jar of paper strips printed with "I am grateful for..." and a pen underneath the memo board. Each family member will fill one out, tuck it into the memo board, and we will read them during dinner. Some families have a small branch that they stick messages on, some write in a pretty book, others put them in a nice vase. No matter how you do it, you may want to include this activity into your Thanksgiving Day. It may help your family to feel a little more positive about their circumstances.

I wish you all a fun and relaxing Thanksgiving, surrounded by family and good friends.