Facebook groups and other avenues are springing up as thousands of people look to swap goods.
(Louisa Bertman for The Washington Post)
Calhoun’s group, which has gained more than 4,600 members in seven weeks, is one of a growing handful of similar groups sprinkled across the country including in western Montana and southern Nevada. They represent a broader rise in bartering as grocery stores run out of goods and people share what they have. Those partaking say it keeps them out of crowded shops and saves a bit of money. But just as important, it’s a way to feel helpful during the pandemic.
“It was a very unique way to connect with someone during a time when a lot of us are feeling alone,” Hughes said.
As the coronavirus pandemic took hold across the United States in March, grocery stores became chaotic as people tried to stock up on the basics. People were sent home from work as restaurants closed and social distancing laws were enacted. Shopping and ordering online became a hit-or-miss game.
Stores in many areas of the country have calmed a bit and are restocking staples, but unemployment numbers continue to rise as businesses cut back or shut down in the face of economic uncertainty. More than 30 million Americans have filed unemployment claims since the pandemic took hold in the United States, an unprecedented number in such a short amount of time.
Bartering is a natural side effect and one that frequently stems from an economic crisis, said Jim Stodder, an economist and visiting professor at Boston University. It happened during the Great Depression to such an extent many “community currencies,” or forms of local money, were created.
“Any time we have a serious downturn in which people are short of money, these things tend to pop up,” he said.
Some of those community currencies stuck around — BerkShares, used in the Berkshires region of western Massachusetts, is probably the best known surviving example. People can use regular money to buy BerkShares — one BerkShare costs 95 cents — which can be used to pay at hundreds of businesses in the region. Proponents say it fosters community spirit and keeps money flowing locally.
Professional bartering exchanges, which offer credit or bartering exchange funds for goods, are also reporting increased activity as businesses conserve cash and search for other ways to pay for business. Ron Whitney of the International Reciprocal Trade Association said there’s been a spike in interest in small businesses wanting to join exchanges since the pandemic began and cash became tight.
But for most people, bartering (so far) is happening between neighbors and across online forums such as Facebook, Nextdoor and Twitter.
Veronica Coon started a trading Facebook group in Henderson, Nev., after she saw long lines around Target and Costco as she drove with her husband to pick up their son from college.
She snagged a case of 12 packages of highly coveted baby wipes on Amazon and started giving them away to anyone who needed some, leaving them in a red crate on her front porch to observe social distancing. She also doled out two-pound Ziploc bags of rice, separated from her 50-pound bag online find.
Coon’s group is one of the most active in the country with more than 5,700 members — ballooning faster than she expected in less than two months. In the group, people post what they have to offer and what they would ideally accept as a trade. Others then comment if they’re interested in bartering. They contact each other privately to set up a time to meet, and most people exchange items from a distance, Coon said, or leave trades on front porches.
Facebook said it doesn’t track the number of bartering groups. However, spokesperson Leonard Lam said there are 4,000 covid-19 support groups in the U.S., which could include some of the bartering groups.
At first the groups were filled with people looking mainly for hand sanitizer, baby wipes and paper towels, members of the groups say. Now many are trading for face masks, although another frequent request has been the elusive Lysol spray.
“There are so many people in the valley who have been helped,” she said. MORE