Free Piles & Community

By Joel Newman

On a quiet street corner in Northeast Portland is a small, stout, brightly painted shed. It’s filled with treasure, contributed by neighbors and passers-by, all free for the taking.

“Everyone in Portland knows about free piles,” says Harmony Shaunice, who built the structure about a year ago and organizes it each week. “It’s a way to bring community together. I think it’s really important to get to know your neighbors and create space where people can gather.”

The box attracts free things from all over the neighborhood. “Everyone in the community stops by and drops off things—we see people drop off carloads of boxes,” she says. “I see all kinds of people stop by.”

It’s not about discarding things as much as finding them a new home. Instead of a trash heap, it’s a place for neighbors to meet and help each other. It turns the disregarded strip between sidewalk and curb into a place for building community.

And according to Shaunice, people are very generous with what they give away. “Some people put really amazing things in there,” she says. “I got a drill the other day and it actually works! I used it to fix the free box, so it went full circle. It was fantastic!”