I belong to a New Westminster-specific Facebook Group called Share New West. Have you heard of this group? Share New West is a community-driven group that promotes a “gift economy”. A gift economy is a mode of trade in which items are exchanged without any expectation of a future reward or payment.
Share New West believes that everyone has something to share and that “together we can achieve great things”. They have a defined mission: 1) To inspire and nurture a strong sense of community and 2) To reduce our collective carbon footprint by giving, sharing, and asking for things we might otherwise throw out or buy.
I’ve been really pleased to belong to this group and have been gifted a few little items I was looking for and was able to declutter quite a few items I was hoping to pass on. Typical buy and sell language that includes acronyms and abbreviated phrases (“GUC”, “next!” etc) is discouraged, and instead participants are encouraged to talk to one another as though you were on the doorstep of your neighbour’s house having a chat. Even Mayor Coté has gotten in on the sharing – and borrowed my lefthanders baseball glove.
Requests for items to keep or to borrow are encouraged, and I’ve been prompted to say “actually yes I have that, and I don’t use it, and you’re welcome to it, come on by and grab it”. It’s been a really positive experience. As well, discussions about the item, where you could buy it, where it might be available, and even compliments about something are all welcome. This is not a transactional group – this is a group that encourages community.
On April 28, one of the participants in Share New West posted a more unusual request. Monika wrote:
Monika and her fiancé, Maynard, decided to get married ahead of schedule. As she posted, Maynard’s mom and grandmother were flying from Nova Scotia for a visit and there was talk of a combined birthday party since four family members have birthdays within one another.
“I jokingly said let’s make it a big party and get married while they’re here too and then at least your grandmother can see the ceremony!” said Monika. To her surprise and amusement, he agreed and they started planning immediately.
Monika admits she was a bit anxious with asking on Share New West. “I honestly had no idea what to expect and after I posted I had so much anxiety! Wedding dresses are a big deal, and quite sentimental, or have good monetary value. I was mostly hoping that I wouldn’t be laughed at for asking for something so major.”
Her worry was unfounded however and the the response was immediate and incredible. Within a day there were no less than fourteen offers of a dress loan (one of which was me!), two offers for a cake, plus offers to help with flowers or other arrangements if needed.
Matisha Behnsen, another Share New West member, was one of the cake baking offerers. “I love to bake and when I saw her post, I remembered one of my favourite parts of my own wedding was the cake. I felt it was something I could offer that I do well at. I’m not a professional but I’ve been baking ever since I was little. I love how food brings people together and puts a smile on their face.”
Monika said yes to a dress mostly for fit, but also because it was love at first sight. “My ultimate goal was to find one that didn’t require any sort of altering due to the sentiment of the dress but also cost,” she said. “I did honestly love all the dresses I tried on. They were amazing, and all so beautiful.”
The owner of the dress, Desiree Savoy, also pitched in and secured a discount from local business Aloha Dry Cleaners to have her dress cleaned. “They did an amazing job of dry cleaning the dress! It had been stained with chocolate from post-reception fountain clean up, was black on the bottom from a night of dancing in the Foggy Dew, and had numerous other little marks. These stains had been on the dress for almost 12 years, and they got 99% of the stains out. I’m amazed it looks almost brand new!”
A discount on cleaning really helped, said Monika. “We had a very small budget considering the time frame and if I had the option to alter the dress I didn’t really have the funds ready, and just cleaning a wedding dress can be pricy.”
The wedding took place in the Rose Garden in Queen’s Park in June. “The ceremony was chaos, but perfect,” Monika reflected. “It rained. But the rain slowed to a light mist for the duration of the ceremony and it was great. I was late, but it worked out as there were a couple guests who got lost and we wound up having to wait for them anyways!”
Monika’s favourite part is that her daughter, Mara, was able to give her away.
Now, Monika has a deeper connection to our city. “I’ve always loved New West for its physical beauty, but I know now the beauty goes much deeper than the sights you see, the people within the community really make it shine,” she says.
Matisha sums it up for a lot of us “Sharers”. “The Share page has been so wonderful. Getting a chance to give and meet my neighbours has been such a wonderful experience for me. I have a lot of social anxiety so it can be difficult to take that first step to introduce myself to someone new. And the page has provided that for me.”
And sometimes, it provides a very special dress.