The popularity of sharing apps is growing, but what about the generosity? Continue?

Adam Ellison holding baskets of food

Adam Ellison

The pandemic, and lockdown, made Adam Ellison want to help other people.

He was happy with his marketing job and his social circle before the coronavirus. This changed after millions were affected by pandemic disruptions caused by the virus.

He says, “I have become more aware of everyone else.” Some people had it worse.

He signed up for Olio in October to volunteer as a Olio volunteer, which allows users to swap edible food scraps with other people.

Each Saturday Mr Ellison goes to Tesco to pick up unsold produce. He lives in a tiny town in Scotland near Kilmarnock. Bread, avocados, limes, tomatoes, herbs – it changes every week. The app allows him to add any items that he has collected and anyone nearby can request for them to be picked up. All the food often disappears within one day.

The pandemic saw an increase in users of Olio by more than two million, to four million. This app is one of many social media platforms that has seen an increase in charitable activities since Covid-19’s emergence.

Tessa Clarke (founder of Olio), says that “the demand is just off-the-chart.” In the beginning, there were just 300,000. Food items could be listed on the app every month. This number is roughly 1.5 million. Half of all listed items can be requested within thirty minutes.

The boom is partly down to the partnership between Olio and Tesco, which was announced last September. This partnership allows Olio volunteers such as Mr Ellison, to share and collect food waste that is not being claimed by charity.

Free food for distribution

Adam Ellison

But Ms Clarke says the pandemic has also motivated people to think differently about food waste – particularly after images of empty supermarket shelves circulated in March last year.

She says, “That resulted in an almost immediate step-change as far as people actually value food.”

Olio food claims may indicate that someone is hungry or simply that they want to reduce food waste.

Ms Clarke noted that Olio users were seeking food for themselves and their families due to a decrease in income or suspension of school meals.

A few weeks after distributing food through the app, Ellison got a call from someone in particular need. He says, “I found myself in a situation where I could really help that person.” It’s amazing to feel that way, and I can’t even explain it.

Olio’s August expansion will include a feature called Borrow. This allows users to borrow items below a specific value such as tools. This is an attempt to cut down on the need for objects only occasionally used.

Another app, Nextdoor and Freecycle.org, also saw an increase in altruistic behavior during the pandemic.

Deron Beal, founder of Freecycle.org

Bill Hatcher

Deron Beal is the founder of Freecycle.org which allows users to give away unwanted items online for free.

He adds that the site became so crowded with activity, Mr Beal’s staff had to set up additional servers in order to handle demand.

Users of Freecycle.org posted details about vaccination locations and offered home-made cloth masks free of charge. The number of clothing and food items on the site increased.

Nextdoor saw a 380% rise in UK users posting about helping and assisting one another.

Jennie Sager from Nextdoor, Head of Europe and Australia adds that “About 70%” of members still talk about supporting local businesses and shopping local.

Elle adds that London was a hub of activity and gives an example of how a father-daughter team gave almost 300 plants to neighbours through Nextdoor.

Sager says, “He believed it would help people decrease their stress.”

The UK Help Map has been viewed over a million times. Users can provide and receive help for various types of problems. 78,000 citizens have added their addresses to the map, and provided assistance to others.

jennie sager

Nextdoor

While altruistic interventions and acts of kindness have boomed on social apps, cash donations to charities fell during the pandemic, notes Cat Mahoney, research manager at the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF). However, online donations increased. They have fallen back, but they are still above the pre-pandemic level.

Now, the big question is whether or not there will be a wider surge in app-mediated compassion.

According to Ms Sager, the influx of Nextdoor posts containing terms related to kindness and giving has continued throughout the pandemic. This is even in countries with long periods of low incidence.

She adds that “when we see neighborhoods go in-and out of lockdown globally we don’t see any major dip.”

Freecycle.org has some unusual listings, such as food, but items that people have gotten for their lockdown hobbies and no longer use are still available on the site.

Brunel University’s Dr Oksana Gerwe believes that the internet helped to facilitate online altruism in the aftermath of the pandemic.

She is skeptical that the activity will continue unless there are regular acts of kindness and help from others.

Ellison might be the right person to fill this role. His experience volunteering through Olio strengthened his faith in communities.

He says, “If everyone did something small and meaningful, then we would live in a better society.” Covid has been an important catalyst in that process, I believe.”

Publiated at Mon, 9 Aug 2021 23.17:43 +0000

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