TRAVERSE CITY — Jon and Camille Gosling's Christmas tree is a 71„2-foot "Manhattan pine" with 1,000 pre-strung lights.
But instead of paying $200 or more for the artificial tree in almost-new condition, the couple got it for free -- in exchange for a nonworking snowblower they were "gifted" on TCFreecycle.
"It's such a fantastic way to keep things recycled and used and to help people at the same time," said Camille Gosling, whose other TCFreecycle finds include mattresses, an entertainment center, a cat "condo" and windows for a greenhouse her husband plans to build. "It's been an invaluable resource for me."
The Traverse City group is part of The Freecycle Network or Freecycle.org, a worldwide grassroots gifting network. Staffed by volunteer moderators and loosely overseen by founder Deron Beal, Freecycle aims to reduce waste by connecting individuals who are throwing away goods with others who are seeking them, using email groups at Yahoo and on the network's website.
TCFreecyle has 2,700 members within a 30-mile radius or so, said owner-moderator JoAnne Lederer. Would-be Freecyclers simply sign up, fill out a brief questionnaire and decide whether to take individual emails or daily digests of offerings. Once approved by a moderator they can search the database for "offered" and "wanted" items or post their own. Parties connect by email and make their own arrangements for drop-off and pickup.
The local group started off slow in 2004 and now grows at the rate of several members a day, Lederer said. She attributes the uptick to the struggling economy.
"When I first started there were more offers, because that's what Freecycle was intended for," she said. "Now times are really hard. With the economy the way it is right now, it has totally swung around. There's more 'wanted' than 'offered.' With people losing jobs, especially up here with manufacturing, people are using their money for food or paying for utilities rather than pay $2 for a pair of jeans at Goodwill."