Sunday, October 28, 2012

Fall Free S:w.a.p. Report

Here are a few stories as recounted by some volunteers:

L.M. says: “I think one of my favorite moments (R’s too [husband and fellow volunteer]--he couldn't get over it) was that we had brought our double tandem stroller along with other baby and furniture and stuff. I BARELY got it set up (put the front seat on) when a young family came over with their tandem stroller and four small children. They started asking me about it. I told them how to make it work, how the seat reversed, etc., and with big smiles, they asked if they could have it. They moved their children over to it, leaving their own stroller, and continued around the swap, finding other good deals, noticeably excited about their upgrade. Meanwhile, another family came over to their old stroller and scooped it up with the small children they had in tow. It was amazing how quickly things went, and how happy people seemed to be in getting such treasures.”

E. B. says: “A few highlights for me: First, I noticed a woman grabbing all of the sewing patterns so when I was putting away another box of donated items and saw there was another pattern I went looking for her. When I gave it to her I seriously thought she was going to hug me. She was pretty happy.

Second, someone donated a newspaper special issue on the Billings, MT [LDS/Mormon] temple. I thought that was funny that someone didn't just toss that in their recycling bin. But, I actually took it home! That is my home town and as a teenager I did a lot of petitioning to get that temple built there. I was excited to read about it even though it was written 14 years ago! You never know what will be a treasure to someone else.

Count on me and my girls helping next year!

For the rest of the account, including pictures, go here.

Next post: report on a hiccup involving an angry mention of possible report to the police.  Shameful tease, I know, but for someone as blandly law-abiding as I am (well, I have been to traffic school . . .) it was a little jarring.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Stories: Strangers Connecting Over Free Stuff

After the last Free Swap, I noticed that another blogger (previously unknown to me) had linked to my blog.  I was curious about the connection and so I checked it out.  Over at I was surprised and delighted by what I found.

Amanda of Burlap and Denim is a talented interior designer/stylist.  She can put a creative spin on anything she may have on hand or find on her journey.  The post that included the link to my blog was all about a re-do on an item that she found—for free—at the Orem Free Swap in June.  She turned a tattered cloth backpack into a decorative pillow for her son’s surfer-themed bedroom.  Read it here.

At first reading, I was pleased that she came, participated and found something that she could use.  That was the whole idea.  Then as I kept reading I noticed that the subject of the project—the backpack—had been mine! 

I was so pleased to see that the idea—that is, people giving and receiving each other’s things—worked.  To know that something I no longer used could be infused with new energy and be given a second chance at life was quite satisfying. 

Our stuff has stories to tell.  That moment—when two strangers swap tales about the life of something they both shared—is . . . well, magical.

That bag’s life started in the Philippines, where my brother lived for 2 years (yup, as a Mormon missionary).  He brought it back for me.  That was around 1992 or 1993.  I used it over the years for various things—probably over-used it and that’s why it got tattered.  Over time I realized that it was spending most of its time in storage.  So, come Free Swap time I bid it farewell and passed it along.  That was the end of my story with it.

But the beginning of Amanda’s story.  And her surfer son.

Who knows what adventures it will have next?

This kind of thing fascinates me.  Community members connecting in the simplest ways.  Stories.  Stuff.  Sharing.  Our collective humanity is richer in these intersections of storylines.  I am hoping to gather Free Swap stories to eventually post over at the community free s:w.a.p. blog.  If anyone wishes to share such stories, please email me at

Come to the free swap on Saturday, September, 29th, 9 am to 1 pm at the Orem City Center Park—on Center Street, midway between State Street and 400 East.  Find items in your homes that are ready to have new adventures or come and find new-to-you items that may have their own history, to which you will add another chapter.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Orem Fall Free S:w.a.p. Coming Soon

Because the response to the June Free Swap was so positive, I decided to organize one more before the cold sets in.  (My plan—at this point—is to organize two free swaps each year, the first Saturday in June and the last Saturday in September.)  Though, as before, pretty much anything goes, I would like to place a special emphasis on items like children’s winter coats, boots, and other cold-weather gear.  Children usually grow out of their winter clothing before those items lose their usefulness.  If you have winter gear that can still keep a child warm, please consider bringing it to the swap.

I talked to one woman at the last event who said that she found some items that she would save for the children’s Christmas presents.  So, gift ideas could be another motivation for participants—either as they clear out possible gifts to bring to the swap or as they look around at what others bring.

Here’s the information for this next event:

Saturday, September 29, 2012, from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Orem City Center Park Rotary Pavilion 
(on Center Street, midway between State Street and 400 East) 

Donations are welcome—from furniture and home décor to sporting equipment and winter gear.  (Please limit donations to items that can be carried by one or two people; nothing that needs special moving equipment—i.e. dollies for refrigerators, etc.)  Simply bring them to the free swap and then stay and browse the rest of the selection for anything that you could use.  

NOTE: There is *no* requirement to donate to benefit from the offerings—please take what you can use.

All shoppers are welcome, but not required, to bring food bank items to be collected for later delivery to the community Food Bank in Provo.

Looking to volunteer?  Please contact  
Or simply show up and be ready to work.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Contacting Local Government

(Pictured from L to R: Miss Orem 2012, Amy Tuttle, wow, I look short next to those two, and Orem City Mayor, Jim Evans)

When organizing a free s:w.a.p. you will unlikely be required to obtain a permit from your city.  It is, however, not only a courtesy to give your city a “heads-up,” but a good opportunity to use any available community leadership communication.

My initial action was to contact our city’s Neighborhood-in-Action (NIA) Chair.  She has regular communication with representatives of the 20+ neighborhood regions of the city.  It was on her recommendation that I attended a city council meeting where I could, during the “open mic night” portion of the meeting, speak briefly about what I was planning, along with where and when.  (This got the event officially recorded in the meeting minutes by the City Recorder.)  After explaining the event, I put forth two requests: 1) would the City be willing to spread the word via official channels like the city newsletter and/or through the NIA network, and 2) would the City be willing to waive the reservation fee on the park pavilion.  The standing policy in my city is that City Council does not take immediate action on any items brought up during the “open mic night” portion, but if action is expected, one way or another, the Council invites the speaker to leave his or her name, address and telephone number with the recorder, saying that “someone will contact you.”

After the meeting let out, I received positive feedback from a couple of Council Members and the Mayor asked me to make an appointment to meet with him.  I felt that I was heard and appreciated. (That later meeting with the Mayor was mainly a discussion about my other hobby of low-waste living and recycling, etc., as the City was in the middle of renewing its waste management contract.) 

I later learned that the City has a lot on its plate and that to be heard, you have to speak up—multiple times, and in person.  After waiting for a couple of weeks without hearing anything, I started in again.  I went in person to try to speak to individuals on city staff who might be able to get the ball rolling for me.  I attempted the utilities department, someone in the City Manager’s office, and then went to the Recorder’s office to check on the status of my response.  They were surprised that I had not been contacted, discovered that it was lost in transit, and re-submitted the request for someone from the City to call me back.

The City Manager called me back.  He asked me to email him a flyer about the event so that he could post it up around city offices.  He would then task the NIA Chair to forward electronic copies to the various neighborhood chairs.  I prepared 2 files—one in English and one in Spanish (I asked my brother-in-law to translate it for me.)  I have no confirmation of how extensively those flyers were then distributed.

As for getting the reservation fee waived . . . I did not pursue it further.  One of the volunteers, however, pursued it on her own.  She called one of the City Council Members, whom she knew personally, to ask about the possibility of refunding my money or waiving any fees at future events.  This is what we learned: there are endless non-profit organizations that could benefit from waived reservation fees.  The City cannot favor one organization over another; it has to draw a line somewhere.  I understand that line of thinking and I support the City’s decision.  (More about costs in an upcoming post.)

On the recommendation of a friend who has more experience in public relations, I emailed Miss Orem and Miss Orem Teen to invite them to volunteer at the event, crowns and sashes in place.  (I understand that this is not a city “government” entity, but it falls in the category of city representatives.)  The director of the City royalty really liked the idea and said she wanted to get all the attendants to come as well, personal schedules permitting.  We were grateful to have participation from Miss Orem 2012, Amy Tuttle.

The last time I reached out to the City before this summer's Free Swap was inspired by a Council Member’s request during an impromptu grocery store conversation.  I emailed the Mayor, City Council Members, City Manager, and the NIA Chair a few days before the event to personally invite them to attend and participate if they wished.  I heard—via email response to me or a phone conversation with one of the volunteers—that 3 of the Council Members were out of town, but were very interested in how it all turned out.  The Mayor came, brought some donations that swiftly found new homes, and stayed to observe.  He seemed very encouraged by the community response.

Once those initial government connections are made, subsequent communication should go more smoothly.

(Side note: My city, Orem, Utah, has a population of just over 90,000 residents.)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Start Planning: Time and Place

When.  Weekend mornings, good weather/season for outdoor gatherings.  You could do it indoors, but you will likely increase participation with an outdoor event.  In my Utah city, I chose the first Saturday in June.  The next one will be the last Saturday in September.  (If the response continues to be positive, I will continue to annually hold 2 free swaps on those weekends.  Over time people will be able to anticipate.)  Avoid conflict with other major events in the community—summer festival days, college game days, etc.  You can’t avoid everything, but you don’t want big-game-day gridlock clogging up the flow of traffic during your event. 

Where.  I chose to reserve a pavilion at the city center park.  (I made the reservation 2 ½ months before the scheduled free swap.)  Though I had to pay out of my own pocket for the reservation, it was worth it to me to have the security of a roof in case of rain.  The other benefit of reserving the pavilion was having 16 sturdy aluminum picnic tables to use to display items.  If you don’t have available tables you will need to track down people willing to donate folding display tables for the duration of the event.  NOTE: LABEL ANY ITEMS—TABLES, CHAIRS, ETC.—THAT ARE BEING USED FOR THE EVENT SO GUESTS KNOW TO NOT TAKE THEM.  I chose a location that had steady traffic and a parking lot nearby, thus facilitating unloading and loading of goods.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Sharing: We . All . Prosper .

(Photo courtesy of Heather Ellis Photography)

After seeing smiles and sharing and delighted incredulity in 7 summers of neighborhood free swap meets, I decided this was an event that needed to grow, that needed to touch many, many more lives.

This summer I expanded the scope of the free swap to include my whole city and the greater community at large.  I contacted the mayor and city council, the city manager, and the Neighborhoods in Action chair.  I reached out to local businesses and charitable organizations (food bank, United Way, Habitat for Humanity).  I wrote my first press release, interviewed with columnists from two different newspapers, and appeared on the KSL Noon News to promote the community free swap.  (It got a segment on the ten o' clock news that night.  Watch it here.)

The response was amazing.

People came.  They came with clothes, with cribs, with kitchen appliances, with electronics, with entertainment centers, with furniture, with books, with craft items and with cans of baby formula.  One donation was a fairly good-sized organ (the piano-like instrument, that is, not a vital body part).  There were people seeking me out to tell me how much they loved the idea.  Many asked when the next one was going to be.  And a couple of people gave me hugs as thanks.  I was so moved.

I thought about it.  This event in one Utah community benefited hundreds of people.  Imagine if every city across the country were to hold such an event--even if it were just once a year--those hundreds would turn into millions.

Join me in starting a trend of gracious giving and gracious receiving by organizing a community free s:w.a.p in your city/region.

The community free s:w.a.p blog will be a virtual gathering place.  You can read guidelines for starting your own event, share your tips and suggestions, submit event reports, share touching or funny stories, and photos of your event--pictures of the weirdest items donated are a bonus!

I would love to get several events going in the second half of 2012.  (I am organizing another event in my city for the last Saturday in September.  This will be a great time to swap cold weather gear, blankets, and even shop for potential gifts for whatever upcoming holiday/birthday people may be celebrating.)  For those in temperate regions or in the South, this is more easily scheduled.  For those in colder climates, you would want to start planning right away or hold off, lay the groundwork and plan for one early next summer.

If you are interested in organizing such an event in your community, email me at  Include your name, city/region, and how you heard about this.

Compared to many nations across the globe, there is such abundance in our country—general abundance of food, of goods, and of wealth.  The community free s:w.a.p. is a chance to foster the abundance of good will in all of us.

Dream with me.

[I have documented some previous free swap events--including links to articles and the TV news report--on my blog  Click on the "community" label on the right and it will load several posts, among which are 5 about free swap events.]

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Free Swap Meet's Debut in the World of Media

It is the day before the Free Community Swap Meet.  I still have a few things on my To-Do list.  Sleep.  Eat.  Breathe.

Thanks to Cathy Free of the Deseret News for a listening, sympathetic ear and a focus on people and the amazing stories that abound.  Those stories are all around us.  She finds them and magnifies the voices of the everyday people who have something to say.  Her article can be found here.

Thanks to Caleb Warnock of the Daily Herald for swiftly assembling--and featuring on the front page--an article and picture that let my vision be broadcast to the Utah Valley community that will most benefit from this event.  His article can be found here.

And thanks to the crew (specifically producer Libby Mitchell) at the KSL Noon News show for inviting me to share a little bit of what I hope will be a growing trend 'round these parts and nationwide.

(Picture: me with KSL anchor Scott Haws in the studio.)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

8th Annual Free Community Swap Meet—a Flash Mob of Exchanging Free Stuff

Up until this point the “Free Yard Sale” has been a modest neighborhood affair.  This year I am expanding the scope of this mutual-sharing event to include any residents of the extended community.  The process has included a visit to the City Council, talking with the City Manager and the Neighborhood in Action Chair, writing my first press release, interviewing with a newspaper columnist, reaching out to organizations such as the United Way of Utah County and the Community Action Food Bank in Provo, and a few more things that I haven’t yet done. 

It has been a challenge, but one worth doing.

As for physically planning for it, that is another challenge.  Because it is kind of like a flash mob of giving and receiving stuff, it’s hard to tell if I should plan for 50 people or for 500 people.  I have 4 volunteers who have signed up to help, but I need more.  The pavilion has several aluminum picnic tables, but I hope participation is high and imagine we would need more display tables.  And who knows what the weather forecast will be . . .

So, below is what the flyer looks like.  Feel free to copy it, email it around, print it out and post it up at work, school, church, or ask a favorite business if it would be okay to post it up for customers to see.

Come.  Dream with me.

Free Community Swap Meet
for everyone and anyone
Saturday, June 2, 2012
8:00 am to 1:00 pm
Orem City Center Park—Rotary Pavilion
(North side of Center St., midway between State St. & 400 E.)

It’s like a yard sale where everything is free.  Clear out clutter, pass along items you no longer need.   Item donations are welcome—from furniture to home décor to sporting equipment.  Please limit donations to items that can be carried by one or two people; nothing that needs special moving equipment—i.e. dollies for refrigerators, etc.—unless you can assume responsibility for transport to its new home.  Simply bring items to the swap meet and then stay and browse the rest of the selection for anything that you could use.  Note: NO DONATION REQUIRED; feel free to take what you can use. 

There will also be a collection bin for any food bank items guests wish to bring which will later be delivered to the community Food Bank in Provo.

Volunteers wanted.  For those interested in helping with the event, please email information to

Portable display tables needed.  If you have a table that you are willing to loan for the event, please email information to above address.

Any other questions can be emailed to above address.