Assorted free items on Peggy Jones’ “exchange table” in front of her house in the York neighborhood. Joe Rudko/The AS Review

There is a table full of stuff in Peggy Jones’ front yard.

Clothing, shoes, books, pots and pans, children’s toys and even a string of Christmas lights lie scattered on the table, which is surrounded by walls and a ceiling made of corrugated plastic. A lightbulb hangs from the ceiling, partially obscured by a slightly damaged Chinese paper fan, which acts as a makeshift lampshade. The table is a cross between a garage sale and a Salvation Army store, except none of its contents are for sale – they’re all free.

Jones has set up the table, known lovingly among York neighborhood residents as the “free table,” in front of her house on Franklin Street for the past five years. She prefers to call it an “exchange table,” and she encourages residents to pick up and drop off things as they please.

“I want it to be a community effort,” she said. “I want people to feel comfortable about taking stuff and bringing stuff.”

Jones said that she and her son, Leonard Hopper, inspect all the items that end up on the table. They test all electronic items and label the ones that don’t work. Jones washes dirty clothing items and scrubs pots and pans before laying them out. She also picks up free items from garage sales to add to the table, as long as they are in good, usable condition. She said that if items sit on the table for too long, they are taken to local secondhand stores.

“We always recycle things; we don’t throw anything away,” Jones said. “We know people throw stuff away in the alley in the garbage, and so we set up something here so people that need something can come and get it.”

Jones has lived in her house with her son since 1976, but while she was growing up, her family never had a lot of spare cash.
“I came from a family who never had a lot. We made due, and we didn’t throw things away,” she said. “It’s sort of an ingrained thing.”

Her experiences in her childhood, and also later in life as a single mother, made thriftiness a lifestyle. In addition, she said that she knows how stretched people’s budgets can be, especially for students.

“There are a lot of students in this area, and I went back to Western when I was 50 years old, and so I know how tight things are,” she said. “I feel like this is my contribution to my community that the community can contribute to also.”

For those familiar with the table, it received quite the makeover this year. Traditionally, Jones and Hopper set it up in April and took it down in the fall when the weather got dreary. This year, they spent about $500 buying wood, plastic and cement blocks to give the table a roof and walls so it can stay up all year.

“We want to run it for as long as possible,” she said.

Jones said that her neighbor, an art student, offered to make her a sign. A 4-year-old boy who lives up the street wanted to paint the table and decorate the cement blocks underneath it.

Neighbors have been very appreciative of the table and Jones said she has no plans to charge money for the items. To those who wonder why she doesn’t just have a garage sale, Jones responds, “Well, why not give it away for free?”