Northwest Philly Buy Nothings Let Members Have a Voice in Group’s Expansion

Betsy Teutsch, for the Shuttle

Northwest Philly has been fertile ground for the Buy Nothing Project. Facebook Buy Nothing groups are organized by geographic boundaries, with active participants in Germantown, Mt. Airy, Chestnut Hill and adjoining suburban areas. There are now thousands of Buy Nothing Groups around the world, all following more or less the same formula and rules.

When Buy Nothing Groups exceed 1,000 or so members, they sprout into smaller, hyper-local communities. This contracts each group’s footprint, which is good for the environment, and facilitates face-to-face neighbor connections. But when the Mt. Airy Buy Nothing admin team announced their group would be split up, there was massive pushback.

Aquitia Harley and Carolyn Rahe, devoted managers of the sprawling local Buy Nothing community, worked to come up with logical subdivisions. Their idea was to split into East Mt. Airy, West Mt. Airy and Cedarbrook. Mt. Airy exceptionalism was quickly touted: how could they even think of this? It was building on the redlining history of realtors!

Heated Facebook discussions ensued. Harley listened, and devised a solution unique in all of the Buy Nothing Project. She divided Mt. Airy into three groups. Anyone in 19119, plus a little bit of 19144, has a choice of either being in their local group (East Mt. Airy or West Mt. Airy) or plain old Mt. Airy, which includes East and West. It worked.

Buy Nothing members offer food, tchotchkes, tools, furniture, equipment, and random weirdness to each other. The project is not a charity; rather, it is an attempt to build community by pooling individual resources in lieu of buying stuff. However, there have been numerous occasions when members have requested items for specific situations.

One member, hosting an African refugee, realized her guest would be arriving in Philadelphia in the fall without any winter clothes. Within a day or two, judging by the 30-plus responses on Facebook, her asylum seeker was completely outfitted. The village delivered.

Mary Weston, a Philadelphia public high school teacher, recently shared a gratitude post, thanking the community for responding to her request for books to create a class library.

“Thanks to these donations, I begin every class with a 10-minute silent reading period where students can read any book of their choosing... Over the course of the day I see nearly 100 different students, so a well-stocked library is a must. For many of my 10th graders, this has become their favorite part of their day. They have literally cheered and gasped when I’ve brought in new books, and wait lists form for the most popular titles. I have seen reluctant readers latch on to reading for the first time, and ask to take books home or keep reading after the 10 minutes has ended. One student told me that this was the first time he ever finished a book that he wasn’t required to read for school. From the very bottom of my heart I want to say thank you to my amazing neighbors.”

To join a Buy Nothing Group, simply search “Buy Nothing” on Facebook, and your neighborhood or zip code. The options generally come right up.

Betsy Teutsch, a local author, is a new admin of the West Mt. Airy Buy Nothing Group, because she just couldn’t resist it.