In good-neighbor-meets-save-the-planet style, two Rogue Valley women have spent seven years helping local residents save money and keep usable items out of landfills.
America Fucci and Sheri Barnes manage the online group "Rogue Valley Recyclers," which salvages virtually everything from old clothes and fishtanks to power tools, textbooks and construction supplies.
For a list of other freecycle groups, visit the ReUseIt Network online (http://reuseitnetwork.org). The site lists tips and tricks for keeping items out of landfills and suggests sites around the country that keep the concept going.
Barnes, of Sams Valley, and Ruch-based Fucci oversee the group's nearly 1,200 members via email and Web posts to facilitate getting and giving.
Group members offer their items online (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/RogueValleyRecyclers-Medford/) and peruse lists of available items, either on a Web page or via email notifications.
A college student moving into his or her first apartment might see a post from an elderly woman elsewhere in the valley who's cleaning out old dishes or bath towels. A family might upgrade to a larger refrigerator, posting their old one online, just as a struggling, single mother's stops working.
Barnes, who home-schooled her boys, makes treks around the valley almost daily to help group members facilitate trades or giveaways. She learned about the group in 2005 when a friend noticed home-school materials being offered.
"I joined the group and contacted this lady, and nobody else had even looked at it yet, so she gave me all of it," Barnes says.
"I went home and figured out it was $400 worth of curriculum. And it would have sat in someone's garage or gone into the garbage or woodstove or whatever. Her kids were beyond that point, so she was passing it on so someone could use it again.
"After that, of course, I was hooked," Barnes adds.
Barnes soon recruited stay-at-home-mom and group member America Fucci, who enjoyed the recycling concept, as well, and the usable items that came in handy while raising a large family.
"I was using stuff from the site. I liked it because it was kind of a 'pay-it-forward' sort of concept," Fucci says.
"Sheri started it going really strong. I was posting pretty regularly, so she contacted me and asked me to help moderate."
The group, which started under the Freecycle moniker, parted ways with the nonprofit in 2007 over new privacy policies and other changes that didn't gel with the spirit of the local group, Barnes says.
Fucci says the group is so active because the idea is so effective.
"Everyone can benefit from something like this," Fucci says. "It seems like everybody I talk to asks, 'Do you know where I can find this or that?' Or, 'Where can I get a good deal on such and such?' I always suggest a freecycle or recycle network before you go and look for something in a store somewhere and spend an arm and a leg for it."
An added bonus for Fucci is that her children have learned to be frugal and share things they no longer need with others. The family has pieced together computers for the kids over the years and shared sports equipment, clothing and furniture. They're also building a home near Ruch using only free items attained through the group.
Barnes says the concept is especially valuable in a tough economy.
"Anytime I hear of kids moving out on their own, I post to the site and ask everyone for dishes, pots, pans, furniture," she says.
"If it's not already posted, the group will usually round some stuff up."
People sometimes post unusual items, but rarely does an item go unclaimed, Barnes says.
"At the moment, we've got a toilet posted," she adds with a laugh.
"The best thing to come out of the group is the friendships that have formed," Barnes says. "Everyone is helping each other out. You see people you know through the group because you helped them out or they had something and you got to talking. There are so many good people I wouldn't have met otherwise.
"And it's pretty easy to keep going. People are really into the recycling and reusing right now. And you sure can't beat free."