SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — You may have seen them in your recommendations when you were scrolling through your Facebook feed. Some have your city or county name in the title of the group paired with advertisements: free stuff. But what are these groups and are those items really free?

For once, this is not a scam. Instead, these “buy nothing” Facebook groups are focused on providing for community members through mutual aid.

What is mutual aid?

Mutual aid is described by not being a charity, but instead people working together to meet the needs of their own community.

Dean Spade writes in his book “Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next)” the following:

“…More and more ordinary people are feeling called to respond in their communities creating bold and innovative ways to share resources and support vulnerable neighbors.”

Mutual aid became more popular among people who may not have previously needed it during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those who, in the past, had the means to “get by” were now struggling with basic necessities.

That’s where the free Facebook groups came in. While they may have existed pre-pandemic, many of the most popular ones in cities like Savannah were created during the onset of the pandemic in 2020.

Not only do they provide physical resources but they connect community members to organizations that can assist in things like finding jobs, formula, pet food, and more.

Spade notes that mutual aid is not just the provision of resources, but something that must be done “in conjunction with social movements demanding transformative change.”

Are these groups demanding transformative change?

Transformative change is described by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) as doing something differently. But to take it a little further, it is to do something so differently that the change “becomes sweeping.”

Are “buy nothing” Facebook groups doing that? If you join one and scroll through you’ll find thousands of people from communities working together to ensure that their community members get access to resources and items that they need. You’ll find people asking for aid and giving aid in return.

Is that push towards localized community building enough to qualify for transformative change? The answer to that is not so clear. It all depends on the group.

So what is a “buy nothing” Facebook group?

Is it just a group that helps people get free things, or is it something more than that? Is it a tool to help build community, expand the use of resources and create a mutual aid network?

That’s for you as a community member to decide. You can join these groups easily, though most of them are private due to the changing of Facebook’s group policies. You’ll need to have a Facebook account to join these groups but the premise is simple: join, offer what you have or what you’re looking for and work with the people in your community to see what can be done.

Some of the groups may be less reliable than others, so you’ll want to properly vet the groups you join. If someone asks you for money or only wants you to meet them alone, that’s a sign that you should report them to the admin of the group.