By Rhonda Fabian
Like others involved with the FreeStore, I have noted a wide range of reactions from friends and neighbors, from genuine interest to total boredom with the idea of “free”. There has even been some hostility. There seems to be a misconception that “it’s only for poor people”. Not true.
It’s only been a week, but every day something great happens. We already see regulars, and people who want to work a shift or two. They want to know about Transition also. There is a sense of play– decorating, arranging, admiring. A big gruff guy stopped in and picked up some tools and a new orange extension cord. “This is awesome”, he said, and he meant it.
I do want to share an observation about children who have visited, since I am very interested in children and consumerism. Lots of times in traditional stores I have seen kids whine or beg for this or that. We all know how targeted they are by marketers; the colorful packaging, misleading claims, and so on. When kids (from 5 to about 15) come in, they are a bit shy at first because they don’t have a reference point for “free”. So there is a wariness. But within a few minutes their delight is palpable. You can see them get it. And here’s the thing. Instead of getting excited, they calm down. Rather than running from thing to thing, they seem to inspect items more slowly and closely. The tension with the parent vanishes and they get lost in the possibilities of making their own choices.
I have yet to see a child ‘hoard’ or act possessive of an item. They make their choices with great deliberation and respect. I don’t see the intense attachment to getting something. Lots of families bring donations and shop during the same visit. So kids see their own items lovingly displayed and maybe even chosen by another child. Lots of interactions happen that would not happen at ToysRUs: helpfulness, conversation, story-telling. And an idea has emerged of borrowing rather than taking. (Oh let me read this and bring it back; or I could use this at the beach for the summer).
Community connection, especially for children, is a commons. We are already so fortunate to be part of a thriving, compassionate community with good schools, volunteer-run sports organization and arts. Yet our children seem discouraged sometimes about the world. Is it any wonder? Seeing sharing and cooperation in action is wonderful for them and for us. There are many ways we can build on this–get the kids more involved with local food, arts, activism and coming together to share their aspirations and concerns and to support one another.