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Trash is always treasure for local Freecycle.org community

Hunter King, 3 1/2, already knows he is getting a Pekingese-Pomeranian puppy for Christmas. His mom, Heather King of Port Richey, got the dog on Freecycle. Here, he holds a picture of him with his new puppy.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

Hunter King, 3 1/2, already knows he is getting a Pekingese-Pomeranian puppy for Christmas. His mom, Heather King of Port Richey, got the dog on Freecycle. Here, he holds a picture of him with his new puppy.

A young mom needed help.

She had brought home a stray dog, then gave the pet to a friend. But her 3 1/2-year-old son missed the dog terribly.

"He keeps going … out the front door looking and crying for the dog," the mother wrote in an e-mail, asking for a nice small dog or puppy that wouldn't be mean to her three young children.

Within about a day, Heather King of Port Richey had more than she had bargained for: a Pekingese-Pomeranian puppy that will be delivered to her son Hunter on Christmas eve, in a red collar and bow.

Cost: free.

How: Freecycle.

"I could just see this little tot sitting there and being upset," said Athena Tanner of Hudson, who read King's post and invited mother and son to take their pick of her dogs' litter.

"And when I saw Hunter sitting on the floor, picking them up, cuddling them, I knew I had done the right thing."

With chapters all over the world — including three in Pasco — Freecycle bills itself as an online grass roots organization keeping one person's junk out of the landfills by matching it with the proverbial other person who sees it as treasure. Since the inception of Freecycle.org five years ago, there has been a tidal wave of offerings of everything from coupons to cars, all for free.

But since members can also ask to receive things in a kind of community bulletin board, local sites have taken on a life of their own as a sort of person-to-person social services agency.

"It's great for keeping the landfills free of still-useful items, but it also helps to keep a positive outlook on the world," said Melanie Conkel, a Port Richey mother of four who has used the site to find homes for kittens and replace a stolen play kitchen with a Dora the Explorer one that her daughter adored.

"It shows there are people right here in our community that do actually care and are willing to help others out."

But when it comes to answering ads for desirable items, there can be competition.

Shaun McLane, a 31-year-old electronics technician and father of two boys, heard from 20 responders within an hour after listing a child's red foam chair with the Disney movie Cars theme two weeks ago.

There were "so many hardship stories," it was difficult to choose just one recipient, he wrote in a follow-up posting announcing the chair and a matching night light had been taken.

"I wish I had more to give," he said.

A new member, McLane joined to exploit what might be the site's highest landfill-saving potential: scavenging parts off broken appliances. He uses them for his 7- and 11-year-old's science projects, and a wind-turbine generator he's building.

The Cars chair was an experiment.

"Every year I have my kids go through their toy box for stuff they don't want. The boys wanted to donate good used toys to a needy family, but most organizations want new toys," McLane said. "That was where I had the idea of fusing Freecycle" with charity.

Other similar groups exist online, such as Savethelandfills and Nothingoestowaste (just punch the group name into any search engine). Reuseitnetwork, which has its nearest chapter in Northern Pinellas, has a chat café where trades and even garage sale ads are allowed.

The groups warn members to take due caution about whom they invite to their homes, suggesting they might leave donations by the door or meet someone away from home.

And members frequently declare "no resellers" in their ads, having felt burned by opportunists and sob sisters who turn around and sell their bounty at yard sales and on Craigslist. Moderators frequently edit out sob stories, and suggest checking a member's offerings against requests in a site search before deciding upon a worthy beneficiary.

Andrea Ceccoli of New Port Richey has been freecycling thousands of baseball cards in packets of 100 each from a huge late-1980's collection she was given free in response to a Craigslist ad. A middle school exceptional student education teacher, she at first gave them out to her often low-income, struggling readers as rewards and a fun way to encourage reading.

She has been giving away the cards on Freecycle for anyone except the dreaded reseller. "My husband is more excited than the kids will be," e-mailed back one of many recipients expected to stuff stockings with the cards.

From researching eBay prices, Ceccoli believes she could have made at least $19 a pack on the cards. But she was given the cards for free, and wants to freely give.

"The feeling I get from knowing I have touched so many kids is more than any money could buy," said Ceccoli.

"It's priceless."

Trash is always treasure for local Freecycle.org community 12/20/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 23, 2008 4:49pm]
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