University District Buy Nothing member Cindy Griffin tends to an Asian pear tree that she was given last year through the group. (Photo submitted)

Buy Nothing group in Nanaimo seeing neighbours helping neighbours during pandemic

Founder said she’s noticed an uptick in people giving where they live

People are sticking closer to home these days, and a Buy Nothing group is helping Harewood neighbours do just that.

Nanaimo’s University District Buy Nothing group started two years ago, but has seen an uptick in use during a time of COVID-19. Laura McLeod, the group’s founder, said she’s noticed a lot more activity lately with people asking for items and giving away items.

“People are experiencing a lot of income insecurity and they know that even if they’re not experiencing it themselves, their neighbours are,” she said.

She said a Buy Nothing group, administered via Facebook, is a hyper-local group of neighbours who give where they live.

“They can ask for something that they need, whether they need to borrow a ladder or a household item or they need some seeds for their garden or they need someone’s help with something,” McLeod said. “It’s not an exchange – you give from a sense of abundance.”

During the pandemic, a salon owner decided to give away extra beauty products, offering them up to any front-line workers in the group.

McLeod said there are plenty of tools that a homeowner might need to use just once, and she herself was able to borrow a salad bowl that she needed for entertaining. She’s seen people give away items such as children’s clothing.

“If you can just borrow something from a friend or from someone in the Buy Nothing group, or you can re-purpose something that somebody else is no longer using, I think it’s a great way to reduce waste and it just cuts down on unnecessary consumption,” McLeod said. “And people can save a little bit of money. So it’s a win-win in a lot of ways.”

She said the University District Buy Nothing has grown a little more slowly than she might have expected, but suggested it’s a new concept for Nanaimo. Another Buy Nothing Group, for the Lower Millstream neighbourhood, was started just this past fall and Brian Short, one of the administrators of that group, said he sees potential for it to grow.

He said of the three R’s, most people recycle, but could do better with reducing and re-using, and he said a Buy Nothing group can help with those concepts. It also creates the sense of a small group of neighbours helping each other out, he said.

“We need more building community, especially now with COVID,” said Short. “It’s really isolating people, but at the same time, it’s an opportunity to grow smaller groups and online groups.”

McLeod said she hasn’t been made aware of any issues with Buy Nothing members taking advantage of others, and said people seem to understand “the purpose of the gifting economy and what it’s about” and follow the group’s guidelines. She said anyone interested in starting a Buy Nothing group in another part of town can find more information at this link.

“I think it can really work anywhere in Nanaimo where people are interested in it and where they want to embrace the concept of it,” she said.

This feel-good story is part of the #WereInThisTogether campaign by Black Press Media. Have an uplifting story that you think would bring joy to readers? Email your story, photos and videos to

READ ALSO: Black Press Media journalists chronicle pandemic with a community lens

READ ALSO: Stay informed about COVID-19

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