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BY JENNIFER AMY MYERS, Valley Dispatch Staff

How long has that canoe been sitting around in your garage? You have resigned yourself to the fact that you are not Anne of Green Gables and will never lazily waste away a summer afternoon floating around a lake reading and enjoying the sun.

Yet, you can’t bear to bring it down to the dump or toss it in a Dumpster. There must be somebody out there that would want it, but how do you find that special someone who dreams of canoeing down the Merrimack?

It’s easy. Freecycle.

In May 2003, Deron Beal of Tucson, Ariz., started the online Freecycle Network to promote waste reduction in Tucson’s downtown and to stop the ever-growing landfills from permeating the beautiful Arizona desert landscape.

The concept is simple. If you have an item you no longer want, post it on your local Freecycle group. Members will respond, and then it is up to you to choose who will receive your unwanted treasure and to hammer out the pickup details.

The only rule is that everything must be free, legal and appropriate for all ages.

Since Beal began the Tucson group, the trend has spread like a California brush fire, with more than 3,200 Freecycle groups boasting 1.8 million members cropping up around the world.

Locally, there are groups in Methuen (942 members), Dracut (268 members) and Pelham (108 members).

Browsing these groups recently, one could find members offering free ironing boards, concert tickets, boys baseball pants, encyclopedias, baby items and kittens. There are also folks seeking items such as a portable propane heater, Lincoln Logs and a Webcam.

Freecycle members take the old saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” to a whole new level.

Crystal Mazzarella, a 34-year-old recruiter for Bank of America who lives in Dracut, read about the craze in a magazine about a year ago and joined the Dracut network.

“You are helping somebody who otherwise may not be able to afford something they need get it and keeping things out of the landfill,” she said. “Some people give their items to the first person who responds, but I like to weed through the responses and find the person who needs it most.”

Like any organization, Mazzarella said there are members who have their own agendas. Some use the group to collect items to sell on sites such as eBay. But for the most part, people are just looking for a good deal, she said.

In the time she has been a member, Mazzarella has given as well as received. She has picked up some Precious Moments dolls to add to her collection, which she shares with her 2-year-old daughter, Lauren, as well as several books and toys.

She has managed to unload a lot of videotapes and her washer and dryer, saving herself the fee she would have had to pay to bring the large items to the dump.

“When I posted the VHS tapes, I got 25 responses in an hour. I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I had them bundled up and out of my house in an hour and a half.”

“You have to be really quick,” Mazzarella warns. “Things go fast as soon as they are posted, and if you don’t move on them immediately you are left out in the cold.”

It is a great network to be a part of, as long as you are safe, Mazzarella said.

“You are inviting people to your home to pick up items,” she said. “That can be scary, so I generally keep my doors locked and have my husband bring the item outside when the person comes to get it, or if the weather isn’t bad, I leave it covered in the driveway.”

To hook up with your local Freecycle Group, visit www.freecycle.org.

Know of a trend sweeping the area? E-mail Jennifer Amy Myers at jmyers@thevalleydispatch.com.