Thousands of members and volunteers from Buy Nothing Project groups in the greater Seattle area are working around the clock to gather and deliver food and supplies to mudslide survivors in the Oso and Darrington communities an hour’s drive north of Seattle.
In just 8 months, the Buy Nothing Project has grown from one fledgling experiment on Bainbridge Island, Washington, into a 150-group network that now reaches around the globe, with no limit in sight. The Buy Nothing model is simple: community members freely giving and receiving within a hyperlocal gift economy. Members post things to give away, from a pair of sandals to garden produce to extra concert tickets, and others ask for things they need—a reel mower, eggs, a lamp. No money is exchanged, and there is no bartering or trading.
Many of the 50+ Buy Nothing groups in the Seattle area have rallied to assist devastated community members who have lost family, friends, neighbors, and homes in the deadly mudslide that occurred Saturday morning, March 22. Buy Nothing cofounder and director Liesl Clark, who lives on Bainbridge Island, estimated that the tragedy has affected some 2,000 people within the small, close-knit Oso/Darrington community, leaving many homeless and struggling with horrific loss.
Clark told me that volunteer administrators of Seattle-area Buy Nothing groups are working together in a network to coordinate member donations, pickups, and deliveries to the mudslide area. A Buy Nothing Darrington group, which formed just three weeks ago, is working to assist with getting supplies to those who need them. Shelley Schwinn of Buy Nothing Bainbridge has stepped up to lead the effort in coordinating with Buy Nothing Darrington.
However, according to Clark the Buy Nothing model has met with resistance from the Red Cross. Buy Nothing Bothell administrator Heather Heyer opened her porch to donations this week, collecting 1,380 pounds of food, as well as pet food, blankets, and other necessities, but, according to Clark, when volunteers attempted to deliver their trailer of goods to the besieged community yesterday, March 25, they were turned away by Red Cross workers and told to take their donation to a local thrift store.
“There is a government protocol that only asks for money. When you add money to the equation it slows the response, and it is unclear exactly how the money is used,” said Clark.
I asked Red Cross Western Washington Regional Communicator Colin Downey about the Red Cross policy. He said that indeed the Red Cross discourages donations of items such as food and clothing. “We have certain responses that we are practiced at and that our 200 volunteers at the scene are busy providing right now. . . . We appreciate the offers of that sort of help, but the truth is the Red Cross is not equipped to handle donated items like food and clothes, and we do ask people not to donate them. We buy bulk and have items stored and prepared in advance.”
Downey explained that although the Red Cross does not handle physical donations there are other emergency response agencies, some of which are at the Oso/Darrington site, that do, and he encourages people with such donations to work with those agencies. Inside Bainbridge put Downey in touch with Clark so he could help direct her to coordinate with those organizations.
As an example, Downey suggested that people who wish to make donations of supplies contact Helping Hands and the Point Church at 360-435-1616.
In the meantime, the Buy Nothing Project network is finding ways to connect person-to-person with those in need. Group administrators are establishing dropoff points through personal contacts. And they are looking ahead at what the survivors will need down the line, like bedding, mattresses, kitchen items, and things people don’t always think of, such as diapers and feminine products.
Clark said that within minutes Buy Nothing Bainbridge formed four dropoff locations for collecting donations for the mudslide response.
“We are just real people—real people who want to help,” said Clark.
Contact the Buy Nothing Project.
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Photo courtesy of Heather Heyer.