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Story Last modified at 10:12 a.m. on Thursday, June 23, 2011

Treasure hunt is on
Community giveaway set for Saturday

BY MATT TUNSETH
Alaska Star

photo:News

United Methodist Church of Chugiak pastor Carlo Rapanut, left, poses with a sign for the "Great Alaska Giveaway," a program developed by church member Kay Abrams, right. Abrams said she started the program after seeing how fast a free couch got picked up off the curb outside the church.
STAR PHOTO BY MATT TUNSETH

Free!

Free! Got your attention, didn't it? In an age where virtues like thrift and frugality are making strong comebacks, everyone has become a bargain shopper. And nothing's cheaper than free, a fact that two years ago put a simple idea into the head of longtime Chugiak resident Kay Abrams that could end up becoming the new fashion in trashin'.

Abrams said she first got the idea when her United Methodist Church of Chugiak was getting rid of some old furniture. Instead of hauling a couch to the dump, someone just took the used furniture down to the end of the driveway and put a "Free" sign on it.

"Before we could get back up the hill to get the second couch, the first one had disappeared," Abrams recalled.

Instead of taking old, unwanted items down to the dump or dropping them off at a thrift store, why not just set them on the curb? If everyone did that, she figured, a lot less stuff would end up in landfills and a lot of people would end up with some much-needed freebies.

The Great Alaska Giveaway was born.

On Saturday, June 25, Abrams' brainstorm will become reality when the program begins in the Chugiak-Eagle River area. The idea is for people in town to go to a Web page she's set up through the United Methodist Church of Chugiak (www.umcchugiak.org) and download a free (what else?) program logo. Once they've got the logo printed off, folks can then bring their unwanted items to the curb, slap the sign on, and hope that everything disappears.

Abrams said the reason for the signs is to make sure nothing gets taken that's not really free.

"We have developed a whole system to make this happen," she said.

Anyone who downloads the logo has to first agree to a set of rules that includes placing unwanted items away from wanted ones to avoid confusion and not dropping your stuff on a neighbor's property. It also includes guidelines for potential treasure seekers – things like not taking items not labeled as free and respecting people's private property.

Abrams said that the logo doesn't need to be printed out for the program to work; really all that's needed is a marker and some common sense.

"It needs to be labeled," she said.

People are also being asked to take anything that doesn't get picked up back inside after 4 p.m.

Abrams said that the idea of having one designated day for the community giveaway will allow people to better share what they have with others.

"We are wasting an opportunity to take abundance and pass it on to someone else," she said. "Some of the things we throw out are luxuries for other people."

Just about anything can go to the curb for potential treasure hunters to take, but Abrams said participants should adhere to a few guidelines that are also on the Web site. She doesn't want to see hazardous materials set out, unsafe items like broken toys or unwanted pets. She'd also like to see people using the program throughout the community and not in just isolated pockets.

photo:News

Chugiak's Kay Abrams positions a sign on a free washing machine outside the United Methodist Church of Chugiak last week. Abrams wants the entire community to set out free items this Saturday for the first "Great Alaska Giveaway," a recycling program she hopes will catch on citywide.
STAR PHOTO BY MATT TUNSETH

"If we did it in only one subdivision, you could get inundated with traffic," she said.

Abrams said it took her about two years to fully develop the idea. A former math and science teacher at Gruening and Chugiak, Abrams said she didn't want to just spring the program on the community. So she visited local community councils and talked to assembly members about any potential problems they might have with the giveaway day.

"Everyone was wildly enthusiastic about it," she said.

Abrams also searched for other places where such programs might exist, and found that cities in Canada have been using it for a couple years. According to the CBC, giveaways have already been held in Ottawa, Winnipeg and Halifax, Nova Scotia.

"It makes you wonder why we haven't been doing this before," she said.

Some people suggested to Abrams that so many freebies sitting out might hurt the local business community. She doesn't buy it.

"When I get a good deal at a garage sale, I say, 'Hey, I saved so much money that now I'm going to go down and buy that clock I've been looking at,'" she said.

Abrams said a key component of the program is making sure folks know about it. So she's also been contacting as many area churches and community groups as she can to get the word out. But she didn't want to start too big, so at first, the program will be limited just to the Chugiak-Eagle River area. But, she hopes, not forever.

"I can see that if this works, it would be something that the Municipality of Anchorage and its recycling program would pick up," she said.

For now, the giveaway day will take place on the last Saturday of each month during the summer. Next year, Abrams said she would like to get started in the spring.

UMC pastor Carlo Rapanut said he was excited about the program from the beginning because of its potential to become an event that brings people together.

"You build community that way," Rapanut said.

Although the program is being run through her church, Abrams said people certainly don't have to be of any particular religion – or any religion at all – to take part in what she sees as a simple way to help make her corner of Alaska a little better place to live.

"I assured the community councils that it will not be used to promote a given religion or any religion," she said. "It doesn't matter why people do it if it's a benefit to the community."



This article published in The Alaska Star on Thursday, June 23, 2011.