Manitobans turn to Buy Nothing groups to help ease financial worries as cost of living rises
The more financial hurdles there are, the more people join Buy Nothing groups, co-founder says
When Leah Funk's now four-year-old son grew out of his bike, she turned to an online community for help instead of heading out to buy a new one.
For the last two years, Funk has been a member of different Winnipeg neighbourhood Buy Nothing groups, which offer members a way to give and receive, share and lend with no money exchanged.
"When we got the bike, he was over the moon," she said.
"It was a pedal bike, which he hadn't learned how to ride at that point, so he was just really excited to be able to see that next stage of what his riding abilities were going to," Funk said.
Buy Nothing groups are helping many Manitobans cut back on expenses amid record inflation rates and cost of living increases.
Funk says additional gifts of a baby bike carrier for her one-year-old and a gift of summer clothes for the older one, items no longer being used by a fellow group member, helped her scale back her clothing budget and cover rising food costs.
"My son's favourite thing is raspberries. They're probably one of the most expensive things, but I'm not going to deny him those just because the cost is too high when that's what's going to get him to be healthy and eat fruit," she said.
"To have those kinds of things gifted to us [means] that we can still just get whatever we need at the grocery store."
Funk is among thousands of people who are part of Buy Nothing groups on Facebook and on a newly created app.
There are 55 Buy Nothing groups in Manitoba, including 34 in Winnipeg, with hundreds of members in each.
Christine Nelson-Didych is one of the administrators for the largest and most active Buy Nothing group in Winnipeg — Transcona, with 3,300 members.
She said there's been an increase in memberships and requests for food and household items in the last six months.
"Basic items like bread, eggs, milk and diapers — there's a lot of people really struggling out there, and our group is able to help bridge the gap with that."
Ukrainians displaced by Russian aggression have also moved into the neighbourhood and are receiving assistance from people in the group.
"We've been able to assist several members with getting comfortable and getting set up in their homes, and I imagine that's something we'll see more of," she said. "I'm looking forward to being able to assist in that," Nelson-Didych said.
Liesl Clark, the co-founder of the Buy Nothing Project, which created the model that Buy Nothing Facebook groups follow, says the number of users skyrocketed during the pandemic, when many people were laid off.
There was another upswing when there were severe supply disruptions, and as interest rates increase and costs of gas and food go up, there are also more users joining.
'Economic safety net'
"Not only are there more people that are joining, but the people who are already present in the groups are expressing kind of a deeper need for the goods and services that people are offering," Clark said from her home in Washington state.
Items people may have once thrown out or given to a thrift store are now being gifted on the pages.
"People are saying … 'I'd rather offer it to my neighbours and someone who I may actually know that may actually live right next to me.' People are finding much more meaning in that way of giving and asking and sharing with each other," Clark said.
The groups are "becoming a social safety net, an economic safety net for all of us, and it's a place where you can sort of fall into the arms of your neighbours if needed," she said.
WATCH | CBC's Lamia Abozaid reports on how Manitobans are turning to neighbourhood groups to cut down on spending:
Funk said her Winnipeg group has become a place where she can regift things she and her kids love but no longer use, that others may find valuable in their own homes.
"Knowing how much joy its brought them, that we can give back to somebody else that might not be able to afford to get it, because it's their extra," she said.
"I don't think anybody's really buying a lot of their extras it would be nice to have, so to be able to give that to somebody else and be on the receiving end is amazing."