GrowNYC Stop ‘N’ Swaps prevent unwanted items from reaching landfill

At a Jackson Heights Stop 'N' Swap, three-year-old Jennifer Lima keeps an eye on the goods her family snagged at the event.
At a Jackson Heights Stop ‘N’ Swap, three-year-old Jennifer Lima keeps an eye on the goods her family snagged at the event. Photo Credit: Peter Kramer

It’s one of the hottest tickets in New York City and it won’t cost you a dime to get in.

Stop ‘N’ Swap is the free exchange program where people can drop off their unwanted items — such as books, housewares and clothes — and pick up something for themselves.

It’s a unique way to reduce the amount of trash stuffing the landfills: Get freebies and help the environment.

The gatherings, which take place on weekends in schools and other community centers, are getting so popular that organizers took the unusual step of limiting attendance to six times a year.

“We want to make sure as the program continues to grow, that we are serving people in the most equitable way and creating the best event possible,” said Victoria Dearborn, Stop ‘N’ Swap coordinator at GrowNYC, a nonprofit that runs environmental programs across the city.

The average swap, which lasts three hours, draws about 300 people, but those numbers can swell to upward of 600 at some sites.

Dearborn and others noticed that experienced or professional swappers have an advantage over newcomers, who can be overwhelmed by the idea of standing in a room filled with things you can take for free.

Seasoned swappers know to line up at the tables while volunteers sort and set out the items by category. While the swaps are for the most part pleasant and collegial affairs, there can be some jostling for position at the tables. And those with fast hands usually get the spoils.

That’s why Dearborn and fellow coordinator Yazmine Mihojevich, friendly and patient, sit at the front of every swap with a laptop to check names against a database and to explain and enforce the six-times-a-year rule.

You don’t have to bring anything to attend and there is no limit for those who want to just drop off items for the swap.

Some Stop ‘N’ Swap devotees just revel in the joy of handing off bags of clutter to smiling volunteers and walking out the door.

Others, like Cheryl Boone of Astoria, arrive early in search of treasure. She was first in line during a recent swap at P.S. 69 in Jackson Heights, with her grandson, Theodore, in tow.

When the doors opened, she walked leisurely over to the racks of clothes that had been set up by volunteers. Theodore happily spotted a radio on one of the tables.

Boone quickly located a few choice items, including decorative, stackable boxes.

“A friend of mine had told me about this; I had no idea,” said Boone. “My grandson found a radio and some toys, so he’s happy. And we are keeping things out of the dump.”

GrowNYC supports a cleaner environment through a number of programs, including greenmarkets, community gardens and recycling programs. The group’s Zero Waste Programs — which includes Stop ‘N’ Swaps — are funded by the city Sanitation Department as part of its efforts to increase recycling across the city.

“We thought a swap event would be a fun way for people to engage in reusing,” said Christina Salvi, assistant director of Zero Waste Programs at GrowNYC.

Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia said the events allow New Yorkers to take an active role in the city’s goal of zero waste to landfills by 2030.

“Valuable items that were once tossed in the trash are now being repurposed, proving once again that one person’s trash can truly be another’s treasure,” Garcia said.

And it’s been working. Since 2013, there have been over 175 Stop ‘N’ Swaps across the city, attracting roughly 40,000 attendees and 441,000 pounds of donations. Almost 80 percent of the items dropped off go out the door with a new owner the same day.

People bring bags stuffed with clothing, books, toys, dishes, plates and old VHS tapes. But there are some true oddities.

There was the 10-foot-wide hamster “apartment building” (which arrived sans hamster). One man dropped off a bust of his likeness.

“If you can imagine it, we have seen it,” said Dearborn.

More than 400 people attended the Jackson Heights event, dropping off 4,080 pounds of stuff. Organizers said 75 percent was taken home by swappers.

Leftover items are either donated or used to start future swaps.

“This isn’t just an opportunity to get free stuff,” Salvi said. “It’s a chance to also reflect on the stuff you are using every day.”


Saturday: Elmhurst, noon-3 p.m., PS 13 Clement C. Moore, 5501 94th St.

Jan. 27: Financial District, noon-3 p.m., St. Margaret’s House, 49 Fulton St.

Jan. 28: West Village, noon-3 p.m., Westbeth Community Room, 155 Bank St.

Feb. 3: Staten Island, noon-3 p.m., Clay Pit Ponds Interpretive Center, 2351 Veterans Rd. West

Feb. 4: Bayside, noon-3 p.m., 12pm-3pm, Korean Community Services, 203-05 32nd Ave.

What to bring?

Can’t figure out what to bring to a Stop ‘N’ Swap? Organizers at Grow NYC suggest clean, reusable and portable items. Here are some do’s and don’ts.

YES: clothing, housewares, books, games and toys

NO: furniture, large items, expired or open food, medicine, dirty or ripped clothing, sharp objects.

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