How to Organize a NET Fundraiser Event

How to Organize a NET Fundraiser Event

Fundraisers are a great way to do outreach while making money for your Neighborhood Emergency Team’s (NET’s) supply cache. Since they’re open to the public, it’s a great opportunity to share some enthusiasm for emergency prep, even if people aren’t going to go all-in with NET training.

Recently, six NE Portland NETs had a great trivia fundraiser event at Lagunitas Community Room, where we had emergency prep trivia, food from La Sirenita, and lots of great drinks. We made $670, which will be split amongst the six NE NETs that participated. After the event, several people asked, “How did you do this?” and wanted to put on a similar fundraiser for their own NETs.

I also recently volunteered at another NE NET fundraiser at the Oregon Public House, which screened OPB’s Unprepared documentary and had a raffle. Based on these two experiences, I’ll summarize the process, share my thoughts, and offer some tips. Feel free to comment with your own experiences, and ask questions. If you’d like to get a copy of my trivia PowerPoint, email me at

Find a Planning Partner

It is extremely difficult to organize a successful event entirely by yourself, and why would you want to?

  1. Find another NET member to partner with, and divvy up the tasks.
  2. Find a Neighborhood Association or Coalition to take on administrative burdens like filling out event paperwork and paying fees.

Questions to Consider When Planning Your Event

  1. Which NET team(s) will your event benefit? The more teams you get involved, the more volunteers you’ll have. The trade off is that the money will be more spread out, so each team will get less. Luckily, what I’ve seen is that even if the money is only going to certain NETs, you’ll still get volunteers from outside that area that just want to help out.
  2. What entertainment and “draw” do you want to have? It’s easy to show a movie, but that can take up a lot of time and leave less time for education/outreach, networking, or other fun things. Also, everyone would have to arrive on time to see a movie. Don’t try to do too many things; it’s hard to manage and confusing for the guests. Try to focus on one thing, and do it well: trivia, a “Hecklevision” movie, a raffle, or a guest speaker.

Pick a Venue

Here are three non-profit event spaces that will donate a portion of sales or in-kind resources. Of course, you can always hold your event at any restaurant, bar, or other space that allows it. Note that if you bring your own food, someone in your group has to have an Oregon Food Handler Card.

1) Oregon Public House in the Woodlawn neighborhood of NE Portland

Your group could be the featured “Charity of the Day.” Or you could be one six featured nonprofit partners for a period of 5½ months. For each transaction during that time, customers select the nonprofit that they want to receive their proceeds.  

  • Pros: Great food menu. Good kids play area. Drinks and food can be delivered to the Ballroom upstairs after being ordered at the Pub. OPH is amenable to having you run a raffle during your event, as long as your volunteers do the work and OPH staff don’t have to be part of it. Raffle tickets can either be separately purchased or in exchange for an amount customers have already spent on food/drinks (ask how much they spent, but expecting to see their receipt is not really realistic or polite).
  • Cons: Other people will be at the restaurant who may not be aware of your Charity of the Day event, so be cognizant not to impact their normal dining experience while also politely educating them about your fundraiser. The pub itself is not a good venue for doing announcements or running any entertainment; the Ballroom upstairs is better since it has a stage, A/V capabilities, and a large open space. However, to get upstairs to the Village Ballroom, you have to go outside – there’s no inside stairway for the public (only food runners). So if you use the Ballroom, factor in the inconvenience factor. The Ballroom does not have an ADA entrance.

2) Lagunitas Community Room in the Eliot neighborhood of NE Portland

Lagunitas will give you as much free beer as you need, wooden beer tokens, and two beertenders. You must provide the rest, including food. If you bring other donated cider or wine, they’ll serve that too.

  • Pros: The space comes with large long wooden tables, a lounge, and a projector, screen and sound mixer with a microphone. They have extra folding tables you can use for info booths and to set out food. A staff person will meet with you beforehand to coach you on how to organize your event successfully, and what paperwork you’ll need to complete.
  • Cons: You still have to recruit volunteers to staff the event, ask for donated food, wine and cider, not to mention any prizes you may use for a raffle or a winning trivia team. You have to bring the entertainment, since the space itself is just a shell. The projector screen is small and in the corner, so it’s not well suited to a movie screening. It works just well enough for trivia, if you’re not relying on it too much; people may have to get up and walk up to the screen if there’s a small image they need to see for a clue. Since you’ll likely be serving food, someone will have to get an Oregon Food Handler Card and supervise the food area. There’s no kids play area. And perhaps the biggest Con is the fees – it costs $150 just for the insurance endorsement, $50 for the OLCC, and $30 for the County food permit. Working with the OLCC and the County is the most confusing and time-consuming part of the event planning. For our event, Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods staff did this work and paid the fees.

3) Ex Novo in the Eliot neighborhood of North Portland

The entire brewery is a non-profit. They feature two local and two international charities at a time, all of which get an equal portion of the proceeds. The brewery has two dining areas; one of which is upstairs. I haven’t used them myself, so I sent them a request for more information; but after a week I haven’t heard back yet.

  • Pros: The food is good, although personally I think it can be a bit on the rich side (but you can get a pint of bacon strips for the table, which is pretty amazing).
  • Cons: It’s loud in the upstairs space, even if just one person is speaking. If you’re in the back, it’s sometimes hard to hear. A portable amp/speaker and microphone may be needed, if it’s allowed by the venue. The upstairs area’s capacity is only around 30. There’s no kids play area. It’s not a good venue for showing a movie, but it would work well for a guest speaker.

Recruit Volunteers

Based on your event plan, determine how many volunteers you’ll need and what roles they’ll have. Here are some suggestions.

  • Greeters (2): Welcome people, take donations, inform people of what to expect from the event, where to find things, etc.
  • Info Booth (2): Engage people by asking them questions, demonstrate emergency toilet set up, answer questions, offer brochures, etc.
  • Host/Emcee (1-2): Make announcements, thank sponsors, run trivia, etc.
  • Food Handlers, Bussers, Event Setup, Event Tear-Down (2-3 of each with a captain)

Use SignUp Genius or a Google Form or Google Spreadsheet to request volunteers. The free version of SignUp Genius won’t give you volunteer’s email addresses, so you’re forced to message them through the website itself. Then separately you’ll have to copy the information into a spreadsheet or Word file so you can print off the summary. It may be easier to just give out a Google Spreadsheet link and make the document public. Just make it easy to use (by formatting it well) and keep an eye on it in case someone accidentally messes it up.

Make sure the sign-up link gets shared widely:

    1. Send it to Jeremy and Ernie so it gets into the NET and BEECN newsletters.
    2. Send it out in your own NET’s newsletter.
    3. Post it to the PortlandPrepares Facebook page and any other individual NET Facebook pages.
    4. Repeat this until you’ve got all the volunteers you need.


Having prizes is a good way to draw people to your event. They can be raffle prizes, door prizes (e.g.: The first 10 people in the door receive a utility shut-off tool), or trivia prizes. Our event at Lagunitas offered several trivia prizes.

  1. Backpack Go-Kit – $0 (see photo)
  2. Emergency Toilet Kit – $45 (see photo)
  • The buckets were free from Metro. Contact the Overlook NET if you’re interested in getting some. It’s not hard to find them from other sources.
  • I got the shredded paper free at work.
  • I decorated the bucket with caution tape and disaster sanitation messaging materials from
  • I bought the toilet seat lids online for $10 each because they’re not carried at Lowe’s or Home Depot outside of camping season.
  • I bought TP, gloves, hand sanitizer, and some heavy-duty garbage bags.

Donation Requests

This might be the hardest part for some people. But some people love it. Try to find those people. You’re more likely to get donations if the person asking is enthusiastic, personable, and not apologetic. And when soliciting donations, offer recognition on your Facebook event page, at the event, etc. Some ideas for who to ask:

  • Lowe’s will likely give you a $25 gift card, which you can use by itself as a prize or buy some items for a kit. Contact a store manager to request a donation.
  • Oregon Emergency Management sent me the backpack go-kit (see above). It was mostly stuff I could have gotten myself and assembled, except maybe the water packets. Another option would be to use an old backpack (or one from Goodwill) and fill it with things from the Dollar Store or Costco.
  • Ask restaurants in your neighborhood. Make a flyer for your event well in advance so you can bring it with you when asking for donations.
  • Ask your network. People may have small things they don’t need or can get for free through work or other connections. Think about how to leverage your network and their assets.
  • Ask KBOO to sponsor your event:

Communicate Early and Often

With your partners. My planning team used email but also a shared Google Doc to communicate. The doc evolved from informal notes we took during our event space consultation to a final, formal plan. We wrote comments to each other using the @ symbol, so it would send an email to the person to let them know they needed to answer.

With your volunteers. Send them the flyer and ask them to share it with their networks. A couple days before the event, send them details on how the event will go so they know when to show up and what’s expected of them. It’s a good idea to have them wear NET ID and vests so they’re identifiable. Be sure to thank them for volunteering.

With your prospective attendees. Get them excited by posting pictures on your Facebook event page. This may be the difference in turning an “Interested” RSVP into a “Going” RSVP (and actually showing up). Give them details about what to expect for food, drinks, the event schedule, parking, and whatever else they might want to know.

Accepting Cash Donations

Fundraisers are even easier now. In addition to the NET info table materials, you can now check out a PayPal card reader which will accept donations into the Friend of Portland Fire & Rescue account. You’ll just need to tell the PBEM NET Admin, Glenn Devitt, which day your event is, so he can put the money into the right NET accounts.

Grants as a Funding Sources

These fundraising events are great because you can raise enough money for team cache supplies, and you’re free to spend the money how you like. Grants, however, come with strings attached. You have to show that you’re going to spend grant money on something that the grant committee values, which depends on the source. For neighborhood coalitions, it is often diversity and equity work. Buying medical supplies and a pop-up tent is not diversity and equity work. So when you apply for a grant, think of how your NET can benefit but also how you’ll make a winning proposal that the grant committee is going to score highly. This is probably a topic for a different blog post, so I’ll stop there.

Final Words

Bring extra batteries, printouts of your volunteer assignments and schedule, pens, and whatever else you may need in a pinch (duh, we know how to be prepared). Oh, and of course – HAVE FUN!!

Katy WolfWritten by Katy Wolf
Team Leader, Boise/Eliot/Humboldt Neighborhood Emergency Team
Exercise & Training Coordinator, Portland Bureau of Emergency Management

Japan, Six Years Later

Japan, Six Years Later

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing and outdoorMy name is Mitch Bixby, and I’m the Team Leader for the Overlook Neighborhood Emergency Team (NET). I’m currently traveling in Tohoku, Japan with a group from Portland State University. We’re here as part of a class called Learn from Japan’s Earthquake and Tsunami Crisis. We’re exploring the areas most impacted by the Great East Japan Earthquake (GEJE).

Please join us for a discussion about the trip from 3-4:30pm on July 15 at PSU’s Smith Student Union, Room 296/8. Check out the event flyer and RSVP here if you plan to attend.

Below are excerpts from my personal blog. Contact me at with questions.

Off and Running

On Monday we were in Sendai, a Portland-sized city up the northern coast. Our class of nine spent the day at Tohoku University, one of several schools in Sendai and a leader is disaster planning for Tohoku (this eight-prefecture region) and for Japan. We’ve heard quite a lot this week about the Tohoku Recovery (meaning the three affected coastal prefectures) and how difficult it’s been. Japan’s planning processes needed to be completely re-written in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake (GEJE). It took a year to sketch out what planning now looked like, and another year to finalize plans. This period of adjustment, while critical for making wise choices, also prolonged people’s stay in temporary housing. Also, as folks settle in their “temporary” housing, going back to home communities becomes increasingly unlikely. The story repeats itself everywhere we go: the kids are in a new school, the fish patty company’s old buyers have moved on, and there are no jobs in the fixed-up neighborhood.

But without residents, what business would commit to returning? In an extreme example, after six years, the town of Rikuzen-takata’s grocery store will re-open next month. It’s a crazy game of chicken and egg that the Pacific Northwest really wants to get ahead of. Inability to keep people around Portland is a thing that gets talked about a lot in some circles. There’s no easy solution, but surely there must be conversations we can have and ways of prioritizing we can agree to in advance.

Yeah. And that’s the light, fluffy stuff. In the afternoon, we all piled into the bus and drove into Fukushima prefecture. We were headed to the small town of Iwaki, but took the, uh, scenic route. Driving through the little village of Namie, you could tell it was deserted. And then we started seeing roadblocks. Then some with guards. Then… are those radiation detectors? Oh, yes. And there, 20 miles off towards the ocean, is Fukushima Daiichi (“Reactor #1”) – five or six stories of lethal beige. And how many acres of radioactive waste disposal bags, snuggled in next to neighboring rice fields? We lost count. More to tell on Daiichi, but that’s for a Powerpoint. Suffice it to say, it was a very weird, very surreal bus ride.

Coming Up: The little seawall project, or “What does $106 million really get me?” Don’t go anywhere.

A Seawall in Usuiso

Image may contain: sky, ocean, beach, outdoor, nature and waterIt’s a breezy day here on the Tohoku coast. I’m looking out at the ocean from the re-emerging Rikuzen-takata. One thing I’ve noticed (among many), is the widespread use of flags. Tour guides use them to lead their groups, construction sites use them everywhere. They’re usually the long and narrow type, on 6′ poles, now common on the Oregon coast and elsewhere. I gather this type was long-used by Japanese armies, so not really surprising to see them here. Perhaps more odd that it seems familiar.

I left the telling of things at Monday night, in the coastal city of Ishinomaki.  After a huge Japanese dinner on Monday, featuring such unsuspected delicacies as fried chicken cartilage and daikon root soup, we spent Tuesday touring a new seawall in Usuiso.  Pre-GEJE, it was a popular beach town, with good surfing, a little fishing fleet, and several hundred families.  Six years later, the new, higher levees include a large, newly-forested buffer zone and park, but the 14 surviving houses are srill all alone.  Surrounding hills have been flattened to provide fill for the control structures and a flat place for the re-drawn, smaller lots.  Yeah, redrawn.  It’s a kind of ’eminent domain’ called Land Readjustment that allows the government to redivide people’s lots for common structure.  Relatively rare before,  it’s now being done all up and down the coast.  I don’t think folks are necessarily excited about it, but it is what it is.  The relationship between the Japanese and their federal government is somewhat different…possibly more accepting…than in the States.

Our morning tour with the engineers revealed some of the amazing work that’s being done to move and compact each additional foot of soil.  The hillsides all around have gutters and drains, meant to keep them from saturating.  Those drains run right through the new subdivision, picking up overflow from each home’s septic tank before entering a common pipe that drains into the ocean.  Apparently, it’s common practice in less dense areas to deal with sewer this way.  The cost of connecting all, or any, the remote corners of Japan would certainly be huge.  Better to save sewage treatment for cities.  Who here works for Portland’s sewer bureau?  Oh, that’d be me…

During our break, Josh (our program coordinator) and Steve (from Arbor Lodge) and I walked along the seawall, which is now 7 meters high, around 23 feet.  And, while it’s impressive and while it’s low enough that people behind can look over and SEE a tsunami coming (an important criticism of some other seawalls), we couldn’t help but look across the road at the hills and think:  ‘ooo.  It would suck to  climb those.’  It seems there’s still a bit of glibness, some off-handed casualness in the discussion of these large projects.  “Save all that money,” the argument goes.  “Just make people go up.”  Mmm. Easy to say.

After lunch we heard from a guy on Usuiso’s Recovery Committee, who talked about how the recovery was going.  Interesting to hear how the local efforts developed, but, as we left, we stopped at  a shrine to the townspeople who had died.  He followed us, and began telling us about some of the names on the list.  He was remarkably stoic: as a volunteer firefighter, that’s kind of par for the course.  But, these are hard stories and mostly about the kids he had known, and, in some cases, had to retrieve from the wreckage.  Suffice it to say, these were the stories we expected to hear on this excursion, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

After returning to Sendai for the night, we heard from Tohoku University students and faculty Wednesday morning, before heading off to Rikuzen-takata in the afternoon.  More later…

Who Are These People, Anyway?

Yep, still alive over here!  Busy few days, and some minor plan shifts…

As folks start to ask more questions about the week, I realized I’ve never really introduced our class. As near as I can tell, this one-week class was the pilot for future field trips as PSU’s Hatfield School of Government develops a community disaster resilience specialization within their masters of public administration (MPA). The intention is to repeat this trip, for students and not-exactly-students like me, every year.

So, leading the trip were Dr. Masami Nishishiba, department chair and bigwig on community and organizational structure, and Dr. Hiro Ito, professor of economics with a focus on global economics. Obviously, this is grossly simplifies their interests and talents, so, my apologies. Did I mention they’re both awesome? Josh from Hatfield also joined us as program coordinator/’group photo herder extraordinaire and badly needs a vacation right about now. All three were raised in Japan, and all did substantial amounts of translation (both verbal and cultural).

The 9 of us were:
–me [with some preparedness/NET background and a smattering of other stuff]
–Barb [working on continuity plans for Portland Parks, is a FEMA reservist and professional badass]
–Kate [also working on her masters at PSU, she speaks Japanese, so we bugged her a lot]
–Evan [wrapping up his degree in Japanese Studies; bugged HIM a lot, too]
–Robin [retired from social work, daughter works with Josh;  always ready with a question]
–Larry [nearly retired emergency manager from Medford; always ready with a story, usually about being a paramedic in San Francisco in the ’70s…which, uh…that’s a different blog]
–Steve [a fellow NET from the next neighborhood over, he’s a construction manager for a local contracting firm, also in grad school]
–Rob [an almost-former architect working on his masters, with a really good camera usually in hand and an eye for detail]

In some important ways, this felt like a bit of a supergoup, with everyone chipping in some key insight or expertise.  There was nowhere we went where someone didn’t say, “oh, you know what this reminds me of…?”  And everyone got to be that person regularly.  I found that impressive and kind of thrilling.    It was also a group that stayed loose all week [although Mitchy got a little frazzled that last day or so…sorry, guys]. Mostly folks were just fun.  It doesn’t always work like that….

Is the Road Supposed To Do That?

Image may contain: one or more people, tree, plant and outdoorSo, back to the tale at hand, where I left off on Wednesday, 6/22, with a brief sketch of the morning in Sendai before going back to the coast.

Our presentation is Wednesday, and I’ve talked with Masami about this, were not good. Some scheduling goofs, sure, and some language stuff, maybe, but no coherent structure, even in the handouts. For me, it gets back to: what kind of information do the Japanese have to give, and what kind of information do we Portlanders need? Obviously, there’s no perfect overlap, so our challenge  as participants is to sort the two out. Personally, I’ve been trying to look at all of this through a NET lens; some talks have fared better than others. Our Wednesdays speakers have done intriguing work in the aftermath, but I struggle to find the relevance to Portland. Labor trends in Northern Japan, no matter how extensive the surveys, just…. I’m still working on it. Someone else in the group may very well be thinking “Oh, you know what that reminds me of?”

After a quick lunch, we jumped in our crazy little buslet, our demi-bus, our busette, and motored up to the mountain road to Rikuzen-takata. I’m putting in a hyphen that isn’t normally there, because it makes it clearer to my English-reading eyes where the pronunciation break is. In case you were wondering.

The trip up to the turnoff was hair-raising, even for me, because the bus’s suspension was so shot that, at highway speeds, any lane change or course correction caused the back of the bus to roll madly from side to side, to the VISIBLE consternation of our fellow motorists. Official protests from within the bus were lodged and received….

Fortunately, the bus behaved better at lower speeds and, once we turned off into the mountains, there was no doubting this road’s intention to have us drive at lower speeds. Which gave us a better look at the farms, the forests, the road up ahead/down below…

It’s worth noting here how much rice is grown in Japan. I’d never given it much thought, but apparently Japan is self-sufficient for rice, if not much else. The paddies are everywhere (EVERYwhere), including stair-stepped up these mountainsides. I’ve seen a bit of corn and some clover cover crops, but so far, it has been 98% rice. It’s like driving through Iowa, except I’d expect to see some soy even there. Here…nope. Is it possible that it’s being imported from Iowa?

This was also the road that will have inspired a post on native/invasive plants in Japan. There’s just no escaping it. OR knotweed. I don’t want to talk about it right now.

But I will.

So, this is the road with real switchbacks, but also something I’m not sure I’ve ever seen before: a corkscrew. The road descends off a pass, goes out into the valley on its concrete stilty piers, and then drops down under itself to continue down the valley. It just seemed so random and almost theme-parky, especially where they closed our lane for construction at the very bottom. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to take a picture, but I don’t evem know if that’d capture it. Too bad Barb slept through it. Sleeps on buses motoring through hairpin turns: Barb’s pretty hardcore.

As we made it through the mountains to the coast, the rain intensified, making our arrival tour pretty soggy. But that’s more related to other Rikuzen-takata stuff from Thursday. Stay tuned…

A Boost in Rikuzen-Takata

And we thought the seawall project in Usuiso was mammoth. And it is. $106 million is a lot of rolled quarters. But compared to Rikuzen-takata, that’s exactly what it is. It’s sofa change. Steve estimated the dirt required to raise the downtown by 12 meters (38-40 feet) would cost about a billion dollars, assuming downtown was, what, a square mile? Less?

When we arrived Wednesday evening, our planned tour of some key sites mostly got rained out. But we did stop at a service area, unusual to our eyes in that it featured grandstand-style seating, looking out over the… I wasn’t sure. Here it is in the rain (see photo right).

It’s about a 4-story concrete structure, and way up on the top, even above those slit windows, on the tiny roof of this thing, two guys survived the tsunami. Because the water wasn’t QUITE that high. It’s one of the scarier things I can think of, suddenly being a mile “offshore” in the middle of the ocean, when the only thing you know you can do on your own behalf is ‘stay put.’ And that might not be enough, either.

The other things on our tour would’ve been the Miracle Tree, the one surviving pine of an original 70,000. You can see the new seawall in the background (see photo left).

And we also would’ve seen the middle school where the teacher decided, given the duration of the earthquake, to lead students to higher ground beyond the designated meeting place. The designated location was, in fact, overwhelmed, but all the students were safe somewhere else, thanks to someone not following the rules. Mmm.

So, the leading advice from folks on the coast: run like hell when the ground stops shaking. Even after the new seawall, the new tidal gate, the newly-lifted downtown, that’s still the takeaway: go outside and git.

Because around here, that’s apparently easier said than done. It didn’t help that there had been a handful of false alarms, including just two days earlier. It sounds like many people blew it off. I wonder if the Oregon coast would have an equal but opposite reaction, of full-blown panicked dithering, that would amount to essentially the same result. I’d like to think not, but with mid-summer tourists around?

Next up: the value of NET training!

Hurtling Toward the “Finish”

So, I left off in Rikuzentakata, where mostly we heard from folks talking about surviving or rebuilding from a tsunami. The Japanese are pretty good at dealing with earthquakes; it was pointed out more than once that, without the tsunami, the damage and loss of life wouldn’t have been nearly as severe. The tsunami was much tougher.

This is one of those times of sorting out the overlap between what they had to offer and what we really need. Tsunami strategy translates easily to the Oregon coast, but for Portland, it’s not as clear. What other surprise risks do we need to prepare for? Uhh… if we knew….

We did hear from a firefighter, a cool guy we all said we wanted to go for a beer with. He worked for 51 straight days because 25% of their staff died helping people. We all kind of stared. That’s a conflict. That’s THE conflict for NET, but even more for the pros: Do your job fully and pay the price, or hold back and be around to help with the aftermath. Cruel choices.

I think that’s the place our afternoon exercise was coming from: practice making cruel choices, to see how we react. Unfortunately for the class, the exercise wasn’t probably robust enough to get us to the level of panic. Larry, who worked ambulances in the Bay Area during Loma Prieta, was completely unfazed, as was Barb, our FEMA reservist. But even the rest of us were kind of waiting for the stuff to get really horrible. Felt bad for the lady running it, ’cause her exercise had clearly unhinged previous groups. She certainly gave us things to think about, especially given her time in the GEJE aftermath, but I think she also learned a bunch from us.

Friday morning we heard more from city planners about reconstruction, and then headed down the coast to Ishinomaki. Ishinomaki is a city of about 100,000 people, and so more like Portland. There, we heard from one of the city’s disaster managers at the time, a practical man and (understandably) now retired. He talked a bit about shelters (had identified 16, now 100, all reinforced concrete) where they store supplies, like meals (had 12,000; now 50,000, mostly at government expense). Except, here’s the thing. If this happens again, they expect 70,000 displaced people, and assume 2 meals/day. Uh, math concerns….

So, expectations #1 and #2 are that people are bringing food with them, and folks know to do this. Expectation #3 is that food will arrive from outside by day 4, as it did in 2011. I don’t think any of these apply to Portland, so that’s, uh, something to think about.

Wrapping Up the PSU Week

The last day of the program (Saturday, 6/24), was a bit more of a blur than some other days, if maybe only because we spent less time on the bus! In the morning, we heard from a couple of folks working on replacement housing. Six years later, there are still 100,000 people in temporary housing! And the social dynamics are real. Throw a bunch of fishermen among the farmers, a crowd of folks on government assistance among the still-working…it gets tense. The big breakthrough was assigning housing by neighborhood, rather than by lottery, which helped keep some group cohesion. Apparently that was an important factor, although I could imagine it going the other way, too.

After checking out the early construction phase of their new development (adding layers of dirt for a couple years, remember), we visited some of future residents at a local Shinto shrine. Then, off to the oyster farm!  I gotta tell you, I’m not much of an oyster guy, myself, but getting out on the water, and watching these guys do their thing….an excellent way to wrap up the week.

Image may contain: 16 people, people smiling, people standing, mountain, sky, outdoor and natureWell, not totally wrap-up. There was a group photo or TWELVE that had to happen first….but eventually we were, reluctantly, allowed to leave. Our hosts were very sweet.

I’m looking forward to getting everyone’s thoughts and revisiting with the group. We will be presenting our thoughts at PSU from 4-4:30pm on July 15 at (Smith Student Union, #296/8). Join us if you’d like to see the song and dance version (Tohoku: the musical!). Check out the event flyer and RSVP here if you plan to attend.

The Buy Nothing Project

The Buy Nothing Project

In the past week, three things happened that will enrich my daily life (and may come in handy after a disaster): I met a neighbor three blocks away who has kids the same age as mine, I got a free pea trellis, and I learned how to make fire cider – all thanks to a group I joined a year ago – the Buy Nothing Project. It has brought me into contact with people near me whom I would likely not have met otherwise.

What is Buy Nothing? It’s a Facebook Group. — Wait, don’t run! — If you’re a Facebook hater, please keep reading. This might be a reason to use Facebook, even if you don’t do anything else with it.

How Does It Work? Buy Nothing provides a structure for groups of neighbors to give or lend items they no longer need and ask for items they would like to receive or borrow. They can also give/receive services and gifts of time. Interactions begin on Facebook and continue on front porches and in living rooms. Ongoing relationships often result, and amazing acts of kindness abound.


The four phases of emergency management are: mitigation, preparedness, response, recovery. Most disaster resources (including this blog!) focus primarily on things you can do by yourself that fall into the categories of mitigation and preparedness (like making an earthquake kit, making reunification plans, strapping your furniture, bolting your foundation, learning to shut off your utilities, and storing water).

But response and recovery are no less important, and planning for them means getting out and interacting with your neighbors. After the shaking stops, it’s our neighbors who will be there to physically and emotionally save us. After the dust settles, it’s our neighbors who will help us recover and rebuild. There just aren’t enough professional responders to “come save us.”

Living in a busy city in modern times often makes introductions and connections challenging. So how can we connect with our neighbors? Buy Nothing is one tool you may want to consider.


In this semi-online, semi-offline community, true wealth is considered to be the web of relationships created between neighbors. The group encourages face-to-face interactions, and members often share stories with the group about the way those interactions have brightened their day.

Many members become friends on Facebook and in real life. Buy Nothing events have sprung up in my neighborhood. Last weekend there was a clothing swap, and the weekend before that there was a silent auction-style gift exchange with ice-breaker games and snacks. This spring there will be a Buy Nothing booth at our neighborhood cleanup event.

I often run into Buy Nothingers when I’m out in public. Sometimes I’ve met them in person, and sometimes I recognize their photo and introduce myself. I’ve only lived in this neighborhood for two years, but I already feel infinitely more connected than I did after several years of living in my former neighborhood.


Buy Nothing creates a hyper-local gift economy. No money is exchanged at any point. Group administrators are volunteers, and they remind us that giving should not just be “haves” giving to “have-nots.” Everyone has something of value to share, and it’s amazing to see this in action. A group member who yesterday asked for toilet paper is today offering a bike he no longer needs. This highlights our community’s scarcity and abundance all at once.

While our resilience can be affected by our economic status, a strong community can mitigate the impact. I’ve seen Buy Nothing act as a community food bank and a way to keep ever-growing children clothed. And as we know, preparing earthquake kits can be challenging for community members who don’t have resources to spare. Through Buy Nothing I’ve been gifted bike helmets, water containers, backpacks, medical supplies, canning supplies, seeds, hiking boots, work gloves, and cabinet latches. I’ve seen others give and receive space blankets, canned goods, storage containers, propane fuel, tarps, buckets, flashlights, and tents.


During our recent snow storm, one member offered free childcare to parents who couldn’t take any more time off work. Another offered transportation to those who wanted to avoid mass transit delays and/or didn’t have a vehicle with snow chains. Sidewalks were shoveled, salt was sprinkled, food was delivered, sleds were gifted, and stir-craziness was abated.  

–> Last month a new mom got her bike and work bag stolen. Group members gifted her new bike panniers and a breast pump.

–> A few weeks ago, a group member gave birth to premature twins, and Buy Nothingers offered to run errands, give her postpartum items, provide emotional support, and set up a meal train for the family.

–> Last week a member asked for a ride to her citizenship test, and offers of rides, support, and encouragement rolled in.

–> Yesterday two Buy Nothingers helped another member with mobility issues by sweeping the pine needles off her roof, unclogging her gutters, and washing them out with a gutter cleaner they got from the North Portland Tool Library.

–> Today a member invited others to join him for a mending party as he works through his pile of clothing that needs patching and darning.


Declutter, save money, meet your neighbors, get a new lamp shade, save the world! Buy Nothing also has an impact on our environment and cash economy. It keeps usable goods out of landfills, reduces carbon emissions, and reduces our reliance on corporations. And as Buy Nothingers share their skills, they are helping others learn to make and fix instead of toss and buy.

“Rethinking consumption and refusing to buy new in favor of asking for an item from a neighbor may make an impact on the amount of goods manufactured in the first place, which in turn may put a dent in the overproduction of unnecessary goods that end up in our landfills, watersheds, and our seas.” —


I’ve noticed a hidden benefit to participating in Buy Nothing: I’m learning the physical layout of my neighborhood. As I drive, bike, and walk to my neighbors’ homes, I’m getting to know the streets and landmarks of my community. I’m sure you can see how this might be useful to a Neighborhood Emergency Team member after an earthquake.


Buy Nothing has brought me immeasurable benefits. I’ve strengthened my connection to my community, saved gobs of cash, beautified my home, added to my emergency preparedness kits, learned new skills, and felt the joy of giving. A few weeks into it, I couldn’t stop looking for items in my house to give away. A few months into it, I stopped thinking of it as a cool way to get stuff and started seeing as a way to connect with people and unplug from the system. With each passing day, my family is more resilient and therefore more prepared for all stages of a natural, manmade, or personal disaster.

There are currently 80+ Buy Nothing groups in Oregon, including 18 in Portland. As groups grow, they “redistrict” and split apart into even more hyper-local groups. To learn more, visit the Buy Nothing Project website and watch this video.  

Written by Laura Hall
Assistant Team Leader
Arbor Lodge / Kenton NET