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Op-Ed: In the midst of pandemic, in the midst of divorce, what neighbors share is reassurance

A still life of whole and cut grapefruit on a white background
One thing you might score if you join a local Buy Nothing group: fresh, ripe grapefruit.
(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

Never take candy from a stranger, we’re told. But what if that stranger is also a neighbor? And what if, instead of candy, it’s a batch of homemade broccoli/cheddar/chicken soup on a cool fall evening? In the world of Buy Nothing, the answer would be a resounding “take it.”

A few weeks ago, I posted a couple of items on my Facebook page to give away: a set of colorful children’s dominoes and a box of miscellaneous kids’ musical instruments. I had recently started the divorce process, and in anticipation of a possible move, I thought I’d get a head start on purging. I figured a friend with younger kids or one of the teachers in my circle might be interested.

Shortly thereafter, I got a text from my friend Sharon who lives a few blocks away. “Have you heard of Buy Nothing Sherman Oaks? It is a Facebook group of local people who are giving things away.”

I didn’t think I was interested. I’m already in our neighborhood Nextdoor group, which gives me the inside line on the latest car break-in and the whereabouts of our resident peacock, Percy. And I have used Freecycle in the past to pass perfectly good items forward. But when no one among my personal Facebook friends took me up on my offering, I reconsidered and requested to join the Buy Nothing group.

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Within moments, the dominoes game, train whistles, drumsticks and recorders got a hit. “My GF and I are both working from home with a 6 and 9 year old also homeschooling. Always looking for creative ways to keep them busy,” someone named Kevin wrote.

“They’re yours,” I responded, perhaps prematurely, because soon Karla chimed in. “Would love to be considered! I have a little one that loves setting up towers and knocking them down.” Then Shahrzad. “Interested for my twins!” But I had already committed.

Since that post, I have gifted, among other things, sparring gear, five baskets, a signed and framed Mel Ramos print of a naked lady on a cigar that I purchased 20-plus years ago, “Jeopardy!” swag, a box of plastic toy animals, educational place mats, new-with-tags Betsey Johnson bras and assorted shiny paper gift bags saved from many years of birthdays.

Because I’m deacquisitioning, I haven’t spoken up to claim much. I did throw my name in the hat for a gorgeous new blanket from Zazzle marred by two little imperfections. (Zazzle was sending the poster a new one.) I didn’t get it. I did, however, score two bags of just-picked ripe grapefruit from someone else.

And when my son informed me that the edition of “Dune” I had gotten him from the library was in Spanish — he had been eagerly anticipating reading it — I reached out on Buy Nothing to see if anyone had a copy to loan or give away right now. An hour later, we went on a short car ride to pick up “Dune” from the porch of a woman named Andrea. My son thought the whole thing a bit bizarre, borrowing a book from a total stranger. But to me it was modern magic, not quite genie-in-the-bottle stuff, but still good: from those who have to those who need.

There is this downside: having to choose a “winner” when an item garners lots of Buy Nothing interest. Some posters on the site use a random name generator to choose. Or they ask respondents to guess their favorite color. I’m still feeling bad I didn’t have a Mel Ramos print for everyone who wanted it. Still, I think I’ll stay.

In the midst of a pandemic, in the midst of a divorce, Buy Nothing is reassuring. It is the good side of humanity. Even if I was late to the party responding to the post about Livia’s beautiful, decadent-looking homemade soup, and thus lost out to Azalia, just knowing someone had cooked from scratch and then offered up the results to 1,800 or so of her neighbors gives me hope that we will get through this, that I will get through this.

Leslee Komaiko is a writer who lives in Sherman Oaks.


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