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In this online barter group, community is a hot commodity

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Veronica Coon's Facebook barter group.
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Amid the coronavirus pandemic, an old way of doing business has made a bit of a comeback: bartering. When grocery store shelves went bare back in March, a number of online barter groups where people could trade goods popped up to meet demand. But as the pandemic goes on, these groups are becoming more than just places to trade toilet paper. 

Veronica Coon, a hairstylist in Henderson, Nevada, was inspired to start an online barter group after seeing messages from friends on Facebook about shortages of toilet paper, diapers and baby wipes. 

“I was talking to my husband, and I was like, ‘I don’t know how to get people together,’ ” she said. “So the next morning, when I got up, I started a Facebook barter group and invited a lot of these friends that had things and a lot of friends who didn’t have things in hopes that they would get together and be able to help each other out.” 

Coon said that the group had more than 1,000 members within 24 hours. Its membership later rose to more than 5,600.   

Veronica Coon started a popular Facebook barter group for people to trade goods amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Veronica Coon)

“It was really overwhelming really fast,” Coon said. “So I now have 10 admins and moderators on the group to help me out.”

Coon said the type of activity in her group has changed as the pandemic has gone on. “In the beginning there [were] more trades,” she said. “Then that turned into donations…. We had families that had just moved into town with nothing, and 15 or 20 people would go comment that they had stuff for them — clothes, furniture, all kinds of things.” Many of the posts on Coon’s page offer food and other items for free.

Businesses have used her group to offer goods as well. “We saw restaurant supply companies come forward and start selling their products that they would normally sell to restaurants,” she said. “There were a lot of professional cleaning supply companies that would only sell to businesses that opened up to common people, so that anybody could buy their stuff.”

But there’s more than just goods being traded on Coon’s page. Members share knowledge, too. In a post from June 10, a member asked (and received) advice about an unemployment claims issue. People frequently share information about which grocery stores have high-demand items like hand sanitizer in stock. Even bread recipes and sourdough starters get traded in Coon’s group. 

“It has gone beyond just the food and basics that people need,” she said.

Though Coon started the group so people could trade necessities, she said it has become a source of community togetherness.

In another Facebook barter group created in mid-March for people in Fresno, California, a member wrote a post asking for food and soap while she waits for government food stamp assistance. Several people commented on the post with links to resources and offers of help.

As a hairdresser, Coon lost her own job in the pandemic lockdown. Her husband lost income as well. She’s since returned to work but knows many people in her community have not.

“I’ve been asked several times, ‘When all this is over, are you going to close the group down?’ And I don’t think I will because it continues to help people,” she said. “There’s people out there that don’t have food, they don’t have clothes, and they feel safe in the group being able to ask and get help without being judged because we don’t allow that … and I think that even without a pandemic, that’s important to have.”

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