The Green Team at First Evangelical Free Church of Chicago held another environmental event: a joint "freecycle" and "e-cycle" event for the church and the surrounding community on July 13, 2008. The event was scheduled on a Sunday in order to encourage people from the congregation to participate and interact with the community. The concept was straightforward and similar to a garage sale or a flea market except for one caveat: every item would be absolutely free, with "no strings attached". Participants could take as much or as little as they wished. Items were donated from both the church and the community. Moreover, we added an additional component, electronics recycling. We invited individuals to bring their unneeded computers, cell phones, and other electronic equipment. After the event, our Green Team hauled those unused items to the local recycling center.
Our Green Team had no idea what to expect, but we were enthusiastic, prayerful, and optimistic. The outcome exceeded our wildest expectations. Our event drew hundreds of people from the throughout the city of Chicago, as well as from the northern and western suburbs. During the event I overheard participants calling up friends and family members and inviting them to hurry down and meet them at the church to select from the excellent merchandise available. I remember one individual calling up a friend and telling them to hurry down and pick up a free lawnmower.
July 13th was a beautifully sunny day and our church had just opened up their newly constructed family life center. We put out approximately 18 tables in total for displaying merchandise inside and outside. We invited people to place their donated items according to signage on those tables (children’s clothing, appliances, electronics, sporting goods, etc.) By the end of the event, we were amazed by how few goods remained. We arranged for the local Salvation Army to pick up any items that remained.
We also filled up two entire church vans of unwanted electronic equipment (old computer, cell phones, and compact fluorescent light bulbs) and one of our Green Team members took those discarded electronic items to the nonprofit organization Computers for Schools for disposal. This organization refurbishes computers and make them available to schools and other nonprofits. Any unusable equipment is recycled.
It was an awe-inspiring experience to see environmental good, social action and social justice take place simultaneously. For a long time I was stationed so that I could observe the table designated for appliances and electronic goods. Often I’d see large families who appeared to be poor, grab up most items on that table, leaving it bare. Then, within a few minutes, the same table would be replenished with more of the same kind of items and the pattern would repeat. I was overjoyed to see some of the expressions on the faces of needy children. It was as if Christmas had arrived in July. As I witnessed this pattern repeat itself throughout the day, I was reminded of the "Feeding of the 5,000" miracle attributed to Jesus and I thought to myself that God must be smiling at what was taking place here in Chicago.
Perhaps 400 people were served by this two hour event, and it took about 2 hours for setup and another 2 hours for take down and cleanup.
The 48th Ward office of Chicago was very enthusiastic about our event. Ernie Constantino, Environmental Aide to Alderman Mary Ann Smith, sent us a message saying, "[We] salute you in your free-cycle event this Saturday. That’s a terrific service you’re doing for the community.” He added that the Dept. of Environment commissioner would be willing to assist us “as much as possible.”
Green Team member Kristen recollects, “It seemed that that was the most I’ve ever talked to neighborhood people doing a "˜church’ thing before. It was awesome!” Steve saw the event as the manifestation of Jesus in the lives of the "Green Team" members in "an undeniable way". Leah, another church member, was encouraged by considerable representation from the Latino community at our event.