Local church event limits waste, gives back to community

Donations, clothing and toys line the tables of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Richmond’s first 'Earth Day Buy Nothing Event' on Saturday, April 20. Photo by Joshua Miklos.

Joshua Miklos, Contributing Writer

The First Unitarian Universalist Church of Richmond held its first “Earth Day Buy Nothing Event” on Saturday, April 20 to celebrate Earth Day. 

Hosted outside at First UU Church and completely volunteer-run, the event was set up like a yard sale with labeled tables for different types of items on which donors can organize their donations.

A buy nothing event allows people to donate items they no longer need and take items that they do for free, according to the Buy Nothing Project website. No one is required to donate or to take anything but may as they please.

Rachel Lawrence, a semi-retired math teacher who now works closely within multiple ministries of the church, coordinated this event and shared some insight into its goal, she said.

“We open up our space for people to bring things that no longer serve them and to take things that speak to them that they need, and the whole idea is to keep things out of the landfill. It also is building, in itself, a sense of community,” Lawrence said.

Buy nothing events work on building community while serving the community, according to Lawrence. Events that rely on the participation of the community are great ways to meet new people and reconnect with old friends, she said.

“Our mission is shared ministry, and we want to work on building that love and manifesting it within our community; and, of course, it radiates out to the whole group,” Lawrence said, commenting on the greater church’s mission as well.

When organizing a community-based event, the most important thing is getting the word out, according to Lawrence. She does social media and communications work for the church and uses social media to tell other local churches and organizations about the event. 

“Other members of the church — they get excited about it and share it with their friends, and so the word gets out that way too,” Lawrence said.

The volunteers are members of the church who come to help with set-up and clean-up of the event, on top of helping carry and organize donations, according to Lawrence.

“Everybody’s coming together and helping out, which I also think is important. Everybody has a piece to contribute,” Lawrence said. 

Some volunteers are also in charge of taking all leftover donations to Diversity Thrift, a local thrift store, at the conclusion of the event, according to Lawrence.

First UU Church used to host similar events called “moneyless yard sales,” which were only open to members of the church, but they stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Lawrence. She said the youth group heard about those events and wanted to restart the program.

Lawrence said part of the reason the youth wanted to bring the events back is due to the rise in thrifting and second-hand shopping. She got involved with coordinating Saturday’s event because she also works with the church’s youth group as an advisor.

The church decided to hold buy nothing events on each year’s Black Friday and each Earth Day, the very first being this past Black Friday, according to Lawrence.

“It kind of ties in, especially Black Friday, of getting away from that consumer culture and getting into sharing resources,” Lawrence said.

Most people know there are items they no longer need that others’ could benefit greatly from, and an event like this can support the shift of those material things, Lawrence said.

“You see here, there’s things that people could go and buy in the store, perfectly nice things. It’s been sitting on someone’s shelf not being used, and if someone can have it for free and get use out of it, all the better,” Lawrence said.

An event like this can really reveal society’s over-abundance of material items, according to Lawrence.

“We seem to be in a culture that wants you to believe you’re in scarcity, but we’re not. We have enough in this culture if we use resources wisely and if we share,” Lawrence said. “It’s hard because we’re so embedded in this consumer culture and this capitalistic culture that, to try and detach yourself from it, is very difficult.”

Lawrence said she hopes promoting and holding events like these will benefit the environment by keeping otherwise discarded items out of landfills and into the hands of those who need them.

However the event is received, the important thing is to do good within and for the community and try to lead with love, Lawrence said.

In accordance with this year’s Earth Day, First UU’s Sunday, April 21 service was used to talk about how we are all interconnected with the Earth, our environment and how it is important to remember what we do everyday matters, according to Lawrence.

On the same thought, Fin, an attendee of the event, thinks these events should be done anytime, not just around Earth Day.

“I love that it’s tied to Earth Day, but I feel like the more we get to Earth Day everyday would be cool,” Fin said. “I’d love to see more events like this in Richmond.”

Leigh Ann Luscan, coordinator of the church’s Family Learning And Multi-Generational program, shared one of her goals of these events hosted by the youth group.

“We keep doing it in hopes that our youth group will feel supported and like what they want to do matters,” Luscan said.

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