When Nancy McGee set up a Swap and Sell Facebook page for her hometown nearly four years ago, she figured it would be a good way to reuse and recycle things among a circle of trusted friends and neighbors.
She joined thousands of other communities where the local Buy, Swap and Sell Facebook page has become the never-ending garage sale. Millions of people trade, buy and sell on these sites across the world. In Kirkwood, a suburb of St. Louis, the page has also morphed into a coffee klatch, a community bulletin board and a hub for social activism.
More than a dozen lost dogs have been found through the page. Readers have also retrieved lost backpacks stuffed with missing homework assignments. Someone offered to lend a neighbor a pair of cowboy boots for their child's school production of "Oklahoma!"
Beyond sharing and selling among themselves, Kirkwood residents have also collected countless bags of clothing and shoes to donate to the homeless. Hundreds of dollars have been raised for local causes.
"It became more than getting rid of an old sweater," McGee said. "There's a back-in-the-day community kind of sharing, lending and helping one another in this new digital way."
It goes beyond the virtual connection the Internet does so well. That sense of community spills into real life.
It gave Christina Ramirez, 40, a renewed appreciation for what it means to feel at home in your community.
After about 11 happy years in Kirkwood, she and her family moved further west to Washington, Missouri, three years ago after her husband was laid off. Her teenage daughter transferred to Union High School and faced racial slurs and harassment frequently, Ramirez said. They called her "wetback" and asked her where her green card was.
"I was never exposed to anything like that in my whole entire life," Ramirez said. Her daughter was crying all the time, having migraines and refusing to go to school. When Ramirez took her to the doctor, he advised her family to move back to Kirkwood. A year and a half later, they did.
Wanting to give back to a community she now appreciated more than ever, Ramirez connected with a local church that helps the homeless, which had long been her family's mission. She joined the Kirkwood Swap and Sell page and posted a request for donations for the homeless.
"It was just phenomenal," she said. "I've never seen a community join together like this." There was such a steady stream of donations dropped off at her home that items started accumulating on the front yard. One neighbor complained about the eyesore, and another started a GoFundMe page to buy the Ramirezes a shed. They raised $730.
The shed continues to fill up regularly, and Ramirez finds places to deliver the goods just as quickly. Local pastor Felix Gibson comes and picks up donations every Wednesday, for distribution to the homeless on Saturdays.
Swap and Sell members have donated time, as well: Two Kirkwood moms joined Ramirez and her family on Thanksgiving at a church in north St. Louis to help serve food and distribute donations.
Page founder McGee, who owns a local clothing shop, says the online group grew to more than 3,000 people, so she added three more administrators to help run it.
People think it's a company, she said. Some have messaged her wanting to contact customer service, "but it's not like our job," she laughed. The administrators do it for free, on their own time.
Ramirez, who volunteers more than 40 hours a week coordinating pickups, drop-offs and distribution to various charities, understands that spirit.
She's used the page to collect toys for children from needy families for Christmas, leftover Halloween candy to share with those in shelters, and books and stuffed animals for inner-city students. She takes clothes for children in foster care and household items for families in low-income housing.
"I feel if I don't do my part, I'm letting them down," she said.
She knows what it feels like to be treated like an outsider. And she doesn't take for granted how welcome and trusted she feels in Kirkwood, a mostly white suburb with a history of its own racial divides.
In 1991, Kirkwood annexed Meacham Park, a historic black neighborhood in St. Louis County, impacting the residents there. The issues between Meacham Park and Kirkwood are longstanding, and city leaders have tried to bridge that divide.
And now, a Facebook page has turned into an unlikely place for healing.