Back in 2004, an organization called Fort Wayne Freecycle set up shop online with the goal of getting people to take unwanted items and offer them to the public.
The notion was that one man’s trash was bound to strike someone else as treasure, and it would keep a lot of useful junk out of landfills.
Nearly five years later, the site – sgroups.yahoo.com/group/FtWayneFreecycle – has more than 5,000 registered users.
In the past few months, though, as the economy has waned, things have started to boom on the local Freecycle site. Users put up a record number of posts in August, then broke that record in September, and set yet another record in November.
As the economy has sagged, and as the number of posts has increased, people on the lookout for freebies have started asking for more and more, and the sob stories from people wanting things have become more and more elaborate.
It’s keeping the moderators – as they are called, people who work for nothing monitoring the various posts, enforcing the local rules – plenty busy.
Moderators have had to start sending out periodic messages to registered users, reiterating the local rules: no offers to give away pets, no asking for pets, don’t post Christmas wish lists and eliminate the sob stories.
There seem to be no end to the tales of woe that have been offered on the site, say the mods, as they call themselves. I was laid off, they cut my hours, my kids are sick, my benefits were cut, they reduced my food stamps. It almost became a contest to see who could offer the most heart-wrenching scenarios, they say.
So the sad tales have been banned, along with the offers of pet kittens and requests for gift cards.
Some of the happenings on the site, though, suggest that hard times are taking their toll on more people.
The record number of people placing posts – most asking for things – has moderators wondering whether people are just getting into the Christmas goods-hunting spirit early or whether they are going to really get hammered by requests for items in the coming weeks.
“I’m a little worried, as the holidays come, whether we’re really going to get slammed” by a flood of requests for goods, said one moderator, who didn’t want her name printed because she didn’t want users looking her up at home – particularly angry users whose posts she had shot down.
While a site such as Freecycle undoubtedly has people who gobble up as much as they can and then resell it, fewer people are making extravagant and specific requests – “Wanted: TV, screen must be larger than 27 inches,” or “Wanted: car, must be newer than 1995.”
What troubles the moderators for the Freecycle site is that more people are asking for the very basics, such as food, baby formula and disposable diapers. But Freecycle isn’t set up to meet people’s essential needs, they say, so it refers people making such posts to organizations that are designed to assist them – and it rejects their Freecycle requests.
It also rejects requests for free Super Bowl tickets, occasionally posted by people on the outside chance someone will have some they want to give away.