In the past, when I had clothing or toys to donate, I’d drop them into bins that were placed around town by community organizations. I knew my donations were going to charities, but I really wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I wondered if my stuff would ever get to a fellow Jew like I wanted. Was it actually weighed and sold for pennies by the pound like I heard from a friend? Who knew?! Fortunately, there is now an alternative solution! Free Chats! WhatsApp community chats are designated for the sole purpose of giving and getting stuff from community members. Sometimes you have valuable things that you simply have no use for but you don’t want them to go to waste. Now, all you have to do is to join one of these chats, take a picture of what you want to donate, and post it. I’d say a good 95 percent of the stuff that gets put on the Free Chat that I’m a part of finds a new home. This reduces waste while saving community members money! In this economy, any and all shortcuts are encouraged. Thousands of dollars of merchandise is given away every week, sometimes daily, to families who will actually use it. I’ve seen stuff from every category imaginable, including bikes, furniture, technology, sporting goods, home organization, party goods, food, home decor, clothing, and baby gear – it’s truly endless. The condition ranges from used to brand new! On the receiving side, it’s very fun to see what you can ’score’ from these chats. It could be something you needed, were thinking of ordering, or never knew you wanted! Let’s hear from some community members.
My friend, who was going to Israel for her son’s wedding, called me two nights before her flight saying she needed high-heeled wedding sneakers and a garment bag for her dress. So naturally, I thought to ask on the chat if anyone had what she needed to give away. I even specified shoe size. I got both the garment bag and the wedding shoes in her size from community members who had them sitting in their homes and were happy to give them away. Both items were located around the block from each other, which made picking up a breeze. My friend was so delighted. She felt like it was a sign from Hashem that everything was going to be good. It made her so calm and happy before she was set to leave on the long flight, which otherwise could have been stressful. She was grateful for the items but was especially grateful for the inner peace it brought her to know that Hashem was with her on this endeavor.
Personally, I’ve gotten things on the chat that I’m thrilled with! I got a beautiful couch on the chat. The girl told me to come over and see it in person. She gave me her address, and it turns out she lives directly across the street from me! I wound up taking the couch with me to Jersey for the summer because the house that I rented was unfurnished. We then took the couch back to Brooklyn and still use it. I also got an awesome headboard that matches my room perfectly. The house it came from was right around the block from me, so the young man whom it previously belonged to walked it over to my house instead of loading it into my car.
We love the free chat! I got a Roomba robot vacuum, a double stroller, a boogie board for my stroller, push cars, a play kitchen, a toddler bed – the list goes on and on! Also I got a handheld upholstery cleaner that I’ve been eyeing on Amazon for over three years and finally got one from the chat! It’s awesome because I don’t spend as much money anymore.
Children grow, they outgrow things so quickly from toys, to clothes, to books. It’s so nice to be able to give outgrown things away as well as getting things that other children have outgrown for my kids. I wish I knew about the chat before my first daughter was born. I would have saved a ton on baby gear. Additionally, the chat helped us a lot with the formula shortage. Certain times I wasn’t able to find formula and people on the chat would give it away when their babies didn’t need it anymore. It really helped us get through the last few months.
At first, I felt so aib (uncomfortable) claiming things in the chat. But it helped so much once I started, especially with the prices of everything skyrocketing. Also, I’m able to use things I need, but once I don’t need it anymore, instead of throwing away a perfectly good item, I can just pass it along to the next family. It’s just another thing that makes our community so giving and amazing!
Natalie B. Cohen
I love giving away clothes on the free chat. To know that someone is really going to get use out of it is the best kind of giving in my opinion.
Basically, last summer we bought and renovated a house. After the renovation we didn’t really have the extra money to buy furniture. From the free chat I got a kitchen table, two beds, two coffee tables, an area rug, and bar stools. Everything was in great condition and worked perfectly in the space. Also, when I was moving, I gave away so much stuff. I love to use the free chat to give away things now. It helps you declutter for the people who don’t like to throw things away, and another family can benefit, just like we did!
Shelly H. Shaab
So it all started with one community member who wanted to give away furniture but didn’t want to clutter another chat. Before you knew it, it was full and there was a waiting list to get in. Finally, people started making alternative free chats for all the people who couldn’t get in. I love the chat. Sometimes you feel bad throwing away expensive things, whether it be clothes or furniture. I’m happy knowing someone can benefit from it. I myself claimed a few things and they happen to be my favorite pieces. Overall the idea of sharing your stuff with community members and not wasting is incredible.
This past year, I was packing up my life and moving to Israel. Obviously, I couldn’t bring everything and since I haven’t been married long, a lot of my stuff was good and new. I saw no justification for throwing it away even though I knew I couldn’t bring it. The free chat was an awesome resource I used to distribute my stuff to community members instead of tossing it or storing it for no reason. I wound up throwing out almost nothing so it was a win in my book! Also side note: I’ve gotten really cool things, like once I scored a pasta maker!
I really can’t describe how much I love the free chat! And, I don’t consider myself a freeloader, I post things too. It’s just so nice when you have something that you know is useful you just have no use for, to quickly take a picture and post it and within a couple of hours it’s not only out of your hair, it’s going to good use by your extended family, aka the community! It’s just really an amazing thing. For instance: I got a new MamaRoo baby swing for my fourth kid (a friend didn’t wind up using hers, she gave it to me). I had one before but it already went through three babies and was quite dated. The old one still worked, plus it had so much sentimental value to me I really didn’t want to toss it. I put it on the chat and someone claimed it who was so eager she came within the hour and eagerly scooped it up. I imagine she got good use out of it and I’m so pleased to know that.
Last year I was considering buying my kids a bunk bed and, as luck would have it, someone offered one up on the free chat, disassembled and in good condition. Saved me at least $700. I was thrilled. It’s a perfect bed and I feel very fortunate to have gotten it. And I’m sure the person I got it from was happy it didn’t go to waste and they didn’t have to haul it off. These chats are simply win-win-win situations all around.
In some circles these free chats are also referred to as gemachs. There are also food chats that reduce food waste, which is also great! The food chats were busier while the government was funding food boxes during and well after the covid pandemic. The reality was, not everyone needed or could use 100 percent of the things they got in their food box, so posting it up for another family to come collect was a really awesome resource. For all the negative things and distractions smartphones bring, I can say with full confidence free chats are a positive. Sure it’s nice to get rid of old things and it’s fun to score toys and other household items, but at the end of the day you never know how significant the thing you’re giving away is to someone else. Families are in real need, and this is another way our community can give in a way that’s sustainable, specific, and dignified.
Frieda Schweky is a photographer who lives in New Jersey and travels to NY as well for work. Follow her on Instagram @friedaschwekyphoto.