A helping hand

Published 7:00 pm Saturday, August 18, 2012

Misty Campbell-Conn arranges sacks of donated goods she distributes through Facebook group to help those less fortunate with their needs. Matt Peterson/matt.peterson@austindailyherald.com

Lyle woman turns to Facebook to help those less fortunate

The old saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” is now accompanied by a digital middleman: Facebook.

What started in Mankato as an online forum to highlight from whom and where people in need can get basic necessities has come to the Austin area. It’s Trash to Treasure, and it’s gaining hold in other communities, as well.

“I didn’t think it was going to go off as well as it did,” said Misty Campbell-Conn and her Facebook effort to help people. Matt Peterson/matt.peterson@austindailyherald.com

“I didn’t think it was going to go off as well as it did,” said Misty Campbell-Conn, of Lyle, who borrowed the idea from her friend in Mankato. While others could simply start their own initiatives — in which people post comments about what they need and others respond with the solution — they have been asking for permission to borrow the idea, to Campbell-Conn’s surprise. That’s what one from Mason City did, and another all the way in Louisiana, Campbell-Conn said. Honesty and outreach is at the center of the program’s mission.

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While each community setting up such websites on Facebook can create its own set of rules, Campbell-Conn set three of her own:

1.) Be respectful. Nobody can negatively comment about one’s shortcomings or reasons for needing assistance.

2.) Everything must be free. No matter what people are offering on the site, it can’t have a price tag. Furniture, clothing, appliances and more, they all must be free.

3.) Users must live within 45 miles of Austin.

Since April, when Campbell-Conn started her local Facebook page, more than 1,000 people have joined the site. Many of them are complete strangers, but many more are now becoming friends, as well. Campbell-Conn said some online posts have started as honest exchanges and progressed into lengthy, friendly conversations about everyday life or going to get coffee. She simply deletes the posts to save space and maintain the site’s mission, yet she politely tells users her reasons.

While money is strictly out of the equation, Campbell-Conn said users can point others toward local service agencies and help them that way. That has already happened, as well.

A mother needed to purchase school supplies for her daughter. Through the forum, the message ended up in front of Vicki Legried, FIC financial representative with the Modern Woodmen of America. Her company, which matches funds for scholarships and helps the community with other financial barriers, may be willing to help.

“That’s what Modern Woodmen is all about,” Legried said about helping others.

Legried put in a request for funds, of which she hopes to set up a shopping day for school supplies for the mother.

“I thought it was cool they wanted to support somebody with school supplies,” Campbell-Conn said.

Campbell-Conn said she has not needed to receive items from the site, but she has certainly donated her share.

“I have seven children,” Campbell-Conn said. “Things pile up.”

While Campbell-Conn stays busy finding homes for clothing, old appliances and toys, she’s now even more busy helping others find homes for their items, too.

Inevitably, however, some people will try to bypass the rules or use the site for personal gain.

Both Legried and Campbell-Conn understand that. For now, Campbell-Conn, administrator of her site, is doing her best to monitor unwanted activity on her site. Others are stepping forward and helping with that as well.

With any luck, the site will remain an upstanding place where honest people in need can keep getting the simple necessities of life. With more luck, someone else with ambition and the motivation to help will start a Trash to Treasure in another community.