By Julianne Mosher and Rita J. Egan
Give a little, take a little — sharing is caring.
A new phenomenon that has made its way across Long Island — and now the country — is a discreet way to help those in need.
The Sharing Tables concept, of New York and California, was started up in November by a Seaford mom and her young daughter.
“I woke up on Sunday, Nov. 22, and me and my 6-year-old daughter didn’t have anything to do that day,” Mary Kate Tischler, founder of the group, said. “We went through our cabinets, got some stuff from the grocery store and started publicizing the table on Facebook.”
The Sharing Table is a simple concept, according to her: “Take what you need and leave what you can, if you can.”
Tischler, who grew up in Stony Brook, said the idea is that whoever sets up a table in front of their home or business will put items out that people might need, with the community coming together to replenish it.
“The very first day people were taking things and dropping things off,” she said. “It was working just as it was supposed to.”
When the table is set up, organizers put out anything and everything a person might need. Some put out nonperishable foods, some put toiletries. Others put toys and books, with some tables having unworn clothing and shoes. No one mans the table. It’s just out front, where someone can discreetly visit and grab what they need.
“Since there’s no one that stands behind the table, people can come up anonymously and take the item without identifying themselves or asking any questions,” Tischler said. ”Some of our neighbors are in a tough time where they can’t pay their bills. I think the Sharing Tables are really helping fill those needs.”
And they’re popping up everywhere. In just three months, the group has nearly 30 Sharing Tables in New York, with one just launched in Santa Monica, California.
On Sunday, Jan. 18, a Sharing Table was put outside the Heritage Trust building at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai.
Victoria Hazan, president of the trust, said she saw the Sharing Tables on social media and knew that the local community needed one, too.
“It was nothing but good, positive vibes,” she said.
When she set up the table with dozens of different items that were donated, people already started pulling up to either grab something they needed or donate to the cause.
“Some people are shy,” Hazan said. “What’s great is that you set up the table and walk away. There’s no judgement and no questions asked.”
What’s available at the tables will vary by community and what donations come in.
“The response from the community blew my mind totally,” Hazan said. “This was the right time to do this.”
Joanne Evangelist, of St. James, was the first person in Suffolk County to set up a Sharing Table, and soon after, other residents in the county followed.
The wife and mother of two said it was the end of the Christmas season when she was cleaning out drawers and her pantry. On the Facebook page Smithtown Freecycle, she posted that she had stuff to give away if anyone wanted it, but she would find sometimes people wouldn’t show up after she put something aside for them.
“So, I put it on a table outside — not even knowing about the group or thinking anything of it,” she said, adding she would post what was outside on the freecycle page.
Tischler saw the Smithtown Freecycle post and reached out to Evangelist to see if she would be interested in setting up a Sharing Table. The St. James woman thought it was a good idea when she heard it. While Evangelist regularly has food, toiletries, cleaning products and baby products on the table, from time to time there will be clothing, toys and other random items. Recently, she held a coat drive and the outwear was donated to Lighthouse Mission in Bellport, which helps those with food insecurities and the homeless.
She said she keeps the table outside on her front lawn all day long, even at night, unless it’s going to rain, or the temperatures dip too low. People can pick up items at any time, and she said no one is questioned.
Evangelist said she also keeps a box out for donations so she can organize them on the table later on in the day, and the response from local residents wanting to drop off items has been touching.
She said helping out others is something she always liked to do.
“I was a candy striper in the hospital when I was younger,” she said. “I just always loved volunteering, and I’m a stay-at-home mom, so, honestly anything I could do … especially with the pandemic.”
Evangelist said she understands what people go through during tough financial times.
“I’ve used a pantry before, so I know the feeling,” she said. “I know the embarrassment of it.”
Lisa Conway, of Northport, and two of her five children, Aidan, 16, and Kate, 14, set up a Sharing Table after their garage was burglarized on New Year’s Eve.
Conway said her children, who attend St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington, were looking for a community outreach project. She had seen a post about the Sharing Tables on Facebook and was considering starting one, but she was debating how involved it would be.
Then the Conway’s garage was burglarized where thousands of dollars of tools were stolen, an electric skateboard, dirt bike and more including a generator that was taken from the basement. The wife and mother said the family felt fortunate that the robbers didn’t enter the main part of the house.
Conway said after the experience she realized that some people need to steal to get what they need and decided the Sharing Table would be a good idea.
“They can come take what they need without having to steal from anyone,” she said.
Her children have been helping to organize the items they receive, and every day Aidan will set everything up before school and clean up at night. He said it’s no big deal as it takes just a few minutes each day.
Aidan said there have been more givers than takers.
“People are a lot more generous than what I expected them to be,” he said.
The mother and son said they have been touched by the generosity of their fellow residents. Conway said she’s been using the Nextdoor app mostly to generate contributions. She said she started posting on the app to let people know what they needed for the table. One day after a posting indicating they needed cleaning supplies for the table, they woke up to find the items outside.
The family has also received a $200 Amazon gift card to buy items, and another person bought them a canopy to protect the table.
Conway said every once in a while, she will be outside when people are picking up items. One woman told her how she drove from Nassau County. Her husband was suffering from three different types of cancer, and he couldn’t work due to his compromised immune system. She told her how they had to pay the bills first, and then if there was money left over they could buy food.
Another day Conway went outside to see that someone had left gum and mints on the table.
“I just was so touched by that,” the mother said. “They wanted to leave something they didn’t just want to take, and that’s all they had.”
Conway said it’s a learning experience for her children to know that there are people on public assistance who can’t use the funds for items such as paper goods or cleaning items, and there are others who are struggling but not eligible for any kind of assistance.
“My youngest one is 9, and even he can’t believe when he sees people pulling up,” she said. “He’s not really in the helping phase but I love that he’s seeing what we’re doing.”
Aidan agreed that it is an important learning experience. He said before he wasn’t familiar with those who had financial issues.
“It’s not good to know that there are people out there with financial issues, but it’s good to know that you can help them,” he said.
Conway said the Sharing Tables came around at the right time as she was suffering from “COVID fatigue,” and it changed her outlook on life.
“I feel like my faith in humanity has been restored,” she said.
How you can help
Tischler said that if people would like to donate but cannot get to a Sharing Table, there is an Amazon wish list on the group’s Facebook page. Items ordered through the site will be delivered to Tischler’s home, where she will personally deliver to the Sharing Tables across Long Island. Addresses for locations are listed on the Facebook page.
“It’s been such a whirlwind,” she added. “I have to stop and pinch myself and take stock of what’s happening.”