By Kristin Boza
Beverly Free Box is a Facebook community of 3,000 neighbors who give away items no longer needed to anyone willing to swing by and grab it from their porch.
This explanation is almost too simple. What really happened since the group began three years ago is an explosion of goodwill, sharing, building connections, and saving items from the landfill.
“Frau Rau,” the Facebook moniker used by the group’s founder, modeled Beverly Free Box after a successful group in her previous North Side community. “It’s just really cool that it’s taken root, grown tons, and has become a regular positive community-enhancing part of so many people’s lives,” she said.
Maureen Rose is the current admin of the group. “I love Beverly Free Box for so many different reasons,” she said. “I love the sense of community and the camaraderie between members. I love that items are being recycled, reused, and upcycled. Watching as neighbors help neighbors is powerful and moving, especially during Covid. The generosity in our community is unbelievable!”
There is nearly no limit on items available at any given moment on Free Box. From outgrown kids’ clothing to furniture to electronics to food, group members simply take a photo of the item, post their cross-streets, and then wait (seriously, just minutes) for the first person to claim it. Claimers must private–message the giver within a couple of hours to arrange porch pick-up. And the transaction is complete.
But Beverly Free Box is about a lot more than “things.” It has been known to save the day for many neighbors.
Lizzie Duszynski’s 6-year-old daughter decided two days before Halloween that her costume had to be a firebird. “My kid has big ideas, but with no supplies (and we are not going inside shops these days), I put out a call on Beverly Free Box to see if anyone had any bits of fabric they could share,” Duszynski said. “Within minutes, strangers from around the neighborhood left bags of fabric, feathers, fabric glue, and even a poufy dress out on their porches for me to collect. I want to cry just thinking about how kind that was! I know it seems like such a small thing, but during this season where all my husband and I are doing is saying ‘no’, it felt so good to actually say yes to something. I was so touched by the kindness of strangers and this story is just a tiny sliver of the sense of community thriving in this little Facebook group.”
Some Free Box members use the group to spread kindness and support local businesses. Nancy McGourty was able to furnish two apartments for her adult children by claiming items on Free Box, and she often purchases growlers of beer from Horse Thief Hollow and Open Outcry to raffle off in the group. Raffles are also used for the most popular items when there’s dozens of people interested; each person responds with a number and the original poster sets a deadline to randomly choose the winner.
But, even small things are given away. Mary Lawlor shared that one time someone posted a bottle of lime juice they were giving away. Lawlor was second in line, and mentioned she just needed two tablespoons for a recipe. “The first claimant messaged me and not only gave me what I needed, but delivered it! This is an awesome group of people, and it’s even like group therapy for me. I see that others have missed a deadline to return an item to the store so they post it on Free Box; seeing this has helped me realize I need to accept my own mistakes and move on,” she said.
Furniture is notoriously hard to get rid of — before Free Box, that is. Christina Badnaruk was able to snag a beautiful dining room table. “I felt like I won the lottery! When I set the table up in my dining room, I started to tear up. I have always wanted a nice dining room table and chairs. This group is a community of amazing people built on trust and the ‘give and take’ system. I have never seen or been a part of anything like it!” she said.
Sometimes, Free Boxers post “curb alerts” when see a piece of furniture or pile of used toys waiting for the trash pick-up. They’ll take a photo, post the cross streets, and alert others who may want to head over before the garbage trucks arrive. Julianne Gorny is a local contact for furniture that is not claimed on Free Box and she works to coordinate donations to a charitable organization. “It feels good in this time of COVID to be able to reach out beyond our homes and families and help someone out,” she said. “The generosity and willingness to help has been a great benefit.”
Meosha Thomas is always on the lookout for discarded furniture. She uses it to help train people at her non-profit organization, One Savvy Veteran, revitalizing the pieces at her art studio on 79th Street. “I use the furniture to teach those seeking employment a new skill so that entrepreneurship can be an option for them,” she said. “I donate furniture items that I have repurposed to women veterans in need so they have a cool and functional art piece.”
As much fun as the group members have, there are sometimes requests for those in need as well. One anonymous member said that she reached out to the group when her sister-in-law left a domestic violence situation. “She boarded a train with nothing but the clothes on her and her two tiny children’s backs. Several people stepped up offering pack–n–plays, toys, clothes, and shoes. The community of givers, especially in times like now, gives me hope in the future of our world.”
Join Beverly Free Box and see what this community can do; search for it on Facebook.