Photo by Courtney DeVoe via Facebook.

ITHACA, N.Y. — From gently-used children’s clothes to toy trucks, dolls and books, the Ithaca Families Gift Economy is making the holidays a little bit easier for area parents and kids — all for free.

The local Facebook group has almost 2,500 members gifting and exchanging on a daily basis since early 2015.

“IFGE consistently blows me away. I never expected the community to pour out generosity. Amazing gifts are posted every day. And when a community member posts a need, it is often met in ways I would never expect,” said Ellen Mary Abb, one of the organizers and moderators of the group.

This time of year sees an uptick in benevolent giving, with many brand new and occasionally handmade items, like gift bags of puzzles, ornaments, and gingerbread mix.

On Monday, one woman offered to gift five dinner boxes, filled with ham, potatoes, homemade cookies and other ingredients so five families could cook a special holiday dinner.

Early in December there was even an offer to pay for a visit to a Christmas tree farm.

Debbie Rohrbach, the gifter, has been a member of the group for around two years.

“My family cherishes our Christmas tree cutting adventure. The entire day is magical for us. I wanted to share that feeling with a family who would have otherwise not been able to afford it,” Rohrbaugh said.

“Gifts that you unwrap are wonderful, but I wanted to gift the experience. I suspect that when my children are grown, it will be the trek through the snow to find our perfect tree that they will cherish most, not what was under it on Christmas morning. That’s what I wanted to gift.”

Brandy Rogler, who joined the group several months ago, was one of the lucky recipients along with her family.

“The girls enjoyed the cookies and hot chocolate and sitting on the toy rocking horse while I read them a book,” Rogler said. “It meant a bonding time with all of us together to get our first ever real Christmas tree.”

Arrangements for gift pick-ups are usually made online only, but on December 20, there will be an in-person holiday swap at The Coddington Road  Community Center from 6 – 7:30 p.m.

Photo of the 2015 holiday swap, by Erin Fierst via Facebook.

It’s not only a chance to snag some last minute gifts, but also an opportunity to find much-needed winter gear and essentials for this time of year for those who may not be able to afford it otherwise.

Swappers can expect clothes and shoes for all ages, books, toys, household items, and plenty of surprises, said Abb. The swaps are not one for one, so visitors don’t have to bring something to get something.

The only rules are that items must be clean and dry and in good gifting condition, with nothing hazardous or difficult to transport. Anything left over will be donated to Thrifty Shopper.

“We can always use volunteers to help with transporting a car load of goods to Thrifty Shopper afterwards. The best thing about a IFGE swap is that everyone scores and we still donate so much!” Abb said.

Abb, an Enfield mother of four children, was inspired by the Corvallis Families Gift Economy in Oregon.

She works with the Food Scraps Recycling Program on weekends, is a parent advocate with Ithaca Is Immunized, and also works with the Enfield Volunteer Fire Department.

Abb moved back to Ithaca in 2015 and wanted to contribute something meaningful to the local community. Part of the idea, she said was to create a group that wasn’t about politics or parenting, but just about gifts.

The group is run by a dedicated group of women, including current moderators Tia Bernagozzi and Katie Geers Williams, who built and maintain IFGE while employed and caring for children. Retired administrator Rachael Ebel, Abb said, especially supported and sustained the group with her generosity and savvy leadership.

There is now also Trumansburg Families Gift Exchange, run by Heather Benedict, local registered nurse and mother, and Wendy Williams, one of IFGE’s founding members.

“Giving gifts builds relationships!” Abb said. “The best part is to see someone’s day made better by a gift they did not expect or have to earn.”

Featured image by Courtney DeVoe via Facebook.

Jennifer Wholey

Jennifer Wholey is a feature writer and Head of Dining Partnerships for the Ithaca Voice. Contact her at jwholey@ithacavoice.com.