Freecycle in the local newspaper

I'm a moderator for a local Freecycle group. Just before Christmas one of the other mods was interviewed as part of an

article about what to do with unwanted holiday presents… hee hee.

Since I'm a huge fan and advocate for Freecycle, I thought I'd give them a shout out. If you don't know what Freecycle is, you can check out their website for tons of info and to find a group near you. It is a non-profit organization whose mission is to keep stuff out of the landfills. If you don't want something, you can post it to the listserv and 90% of the time someone out there wants it. Presto! New life for the item and less junk in the landfill.

As our dear friend Martha would say, "It's a good thing."


Presents Find New Purpose Posted 2007-12-29
Valley Establishments Offer Alternatives To Return Lines, Regifting

By Elizabeth Rome

The Salvation Army will accept unwanted presents, which can be used to help guests in its shelter.
The Salvation Army will accept unwanted presents, which can be used to help guests in its shelter. "Any blankets, bed linens, we can use in the shelter because we have a constant stream," said Christal Yowell, director of development for the Harrisonburg Salvation Army Corps.

Photo Illustration by Nikki Fox

Gathered with family around the Christmas tree, it's your turn to open a present. You tear into a big, beautiful package, only to find a sweater two sizes too big and a CD from a band you've never heard of waiting for you.

Instantly, an image of standing in a miles-long return line fills your head as a feeling of dread comes over you. Recovering enough to plaster a look of happiness across your face, you manage to blurt out, "Um, wow … thanks. I, uh …  love it."

If this happened to you on Christmas morning, don't resign yourself to that line just yet. There are plenty of alternatives to returning unwanted gifts that can put cash in your pocket or a feeling of goodwill in your heart – and a real smile on your face.

‘A Store In The Mall'

The first rule of – let's call it gift repurposing – is to avoid an awkward encounter with the gifter after he or she discovers you trying to relieve yourself of his or her present.

It's this situation that keeps many people from listing perfectly sellable items on eBay, but Nicole Hutchinson says not to worry. She makes a living selling other people's items on the auction Web site as a merchandising representative for eValley, an all-eBay consignment shop in downtown Harrisonburg.

The store has an anonymity clause built into their standard contract that prevents anyone from finding out who is selling any items through eValley. "It's completely anonymous if the customer brings it in," she said.

In fact, unwanted Christmas gifts are some of the best items for eValley to sell, said Kent Hutchinson, store manager. "We all get stuff that we'd rather not have sometimes," he said. "[Christmas gifts are] easy things for us to move. Stuff that's new in the box that you just unwrapped is easy to sell on eBay."

New customers or curious window shoppers passing by the corner of South Main and East Water streets might wonder how eValley works or why they shouldn't just sell items on eBay themselves.

Mr. Hutchinson is ready to answer. "eBay is the mall, we are a store in the mall," he said.  "Since we pay for that store in the mall, we get considerably more advertising. Our auctions are just easier to find than individual sellers."

Navigating eBay

Besides the benefit of the anonymity factor, eValley helps customers avoid the pitfalls that can mar an eBay experience. As an eBay "PowerSeller," a status achieved through a combination of sales volume and positive feedback, eValley can deal quickly with problems like missing shipments or nonpayment. "eBay gives us an 800 number to call that only PowerSellers have," said Mrs. Hutchinson.

For a $5 down payment per auction, eValley will list an item for one week on eBay.  If the item sells, they will collect a 25 percent commission in addition to eBay's standard fees. There are additional fees for more than three photos, listing upgrades or in-store displays. Visit for complete information.

With an audience of countless niche markets on eBay, the Hutchinsons say they'll accept almost any item to auction. But some Christmas presents may be more likely to sell than others.   "Electronics is the biggest category along with antiques, both are so broad," said Mrs. Hutchinson. "iPods are the number one searched for item on eBay and have been for about a year."

Employees work frequently with people who aren't very familiar with computers or don't want to put personal information on the Internet. "People are wary about setting up their own Pay Pal account, using their credit card online," said Mr. Hutchinson. "It's something we deal with daily."   

Besides saving time, the Hutchinsons say selling gifts on eBay can also put more money in your pocket than returning items to the store. Mrs. Hutchinson recalled a gift from her mom, a $200 set of pots and pans, which she tried to return to a retail store without a receipt last year. "They'd only offer me $75 because at one point they were on sale for that price," she said. "They'll give it to you for the lowest price it's ever been sold for."

"If you're selling it to someone on eBay, you know they want it or need it, rather than going in a junk pile in the store," added Mr. Hutchinson.

Help Others With Your Gift

Don't need any extra cash? Another option is to donate gifts to nonprofit agencies in the community who are often forgotten after the Christmas giving season is over.

In particular, the Salvation Army shelter can always use household items. "If you get a set of towels that doesn't quite work, we'll always take towels," said Christal Yowell, director of development for the Harrisonburg Salvation Army Corps.

Instead of taking items like sheets and lotions to The Salvation Army's thrift shop, bring them directly to the offices at 185 Ashby Ave. "Maybe you don't want leopard sheets. You might not be a cinnamon or lotus berry [lotion] person… put it to good use," she said. "It's nice [for shelter guests] to have a few luxuries."

The Salvation Army's shelter offers temporary housing for people who have been displaced from their homes. "They're already in a strange place, and it's a positive way of putting a gift you might not have wanted to good use," said Yowell. "Any blankets, bed linens, we can use in the shelter because we have a constant stream. Our goal is always for someone to go from our shelter to their own place."

Toys are welcome as well, but because of the increased number being recalled, The Salvation Army must now take only new items in original packaging with traceable serial numbers. "It's unfortunate that it's come to that, because people could come in and get toys that still had a lot of love left in them," said Yowell, who has a closet full of recalled items in her office.   

The Salvation Army will also accept unwanted gift cards, which can be dropped in the mail. "Gift cards for a place [the original recipient] will never go in a million years, they can give it to us as well," she said.

Gift cards from stores like Aeropostale and Old Navy may not be to your taste, but they'll come in handy for kids and teenagers staying at the shelter. "If someone comes in with a young person we're able to say … ‘Let's go get you a hoodie,' " said Yowell.

She even has a suggestion for how to stave off unwanted gifts in the future while helping out a good cause: "If someone consistently gives you gifts you don't like, you can suggest they make a donation to charity."

The Free Market

If the idea of keeping the gift cycle going while reducing your impact on the environment sounds appealing, try giving away presents through The Freecycle Network.

Established in 2003 in Tucson, Ariz., the network consists of smaller regional groups in locations around the world.  Members post messages online when they'd like to give away an item or are looking to find a particular item.

You can find the Rockingham County group by visiting Click on "Groups" in the menu bar, then navigate to "Virginia," then "Rockingham" and follow directions to join.

"Everything is free, we don't allow any posts to go through that involve money," said Doris Manning, a moderator for the Rockingham group. "The basic premise is to try to keep things out of the landfill as much as possible."

There are about 560 members in the Rockingham group, which was established Jan. 10, 2007. Manning says baby products are very popular, along with cell phones, printers and computers, but she's seen all sorts of items listed, including a set of cinderblock bookshelves that went quickly.

Group members can choose how often they want to receive e-mails, and then reply to the individual giving an item away if they'd like to have it. "Because for everything that you don't want there's somebody out there who does," said Manning.

However, e-mail addresses are visible, so if you are trying to get rid of a Christmas present anonymously, beware. "It is kind of at your own risk," said Manning. "It is highly possible that your relative might be on the Freecycle list."

Contact Elizabeth Rome at 574-6272 or

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2 thoughts on “Freecycle in the local newspaper

  1. hey that's a terrific idea! I generally give mine to other people (I know, that's risky, too) who will like them — or donate them to charity fundraising events, like auctions, etc., but that Freecycle thing is really good! thanks!

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