by George Post & Kim Skarda Anderson
Many people who are expressing concerns about the recent fire at the Exchange are now realizing that for the past 30 years, the organization has been a significant public service on Orcas Island. Like the library, the post office, Orcas Center, the senior center, ferry landing, farmers’ market, the Exchange enhanced the social and economic flow of our community.
Yes, it was where you could take your unwanted suitcase, bike, clothing, phone, nails, books, windows, furniture and know that someone else would benefit from their usefulness. And yes, if you needed a chair or a heater or some theatrical props or everything to start a household on Orcas, you stood a good chance of finding exactly what you needed for a “what is it worth to you” contribution.
In addition, the Exchange diverted thousands of tons of materials away from the landfill and kept hundreds of thousands of our dollars from leaving Orcas for mainland stores. Those dollars, instead, sustained the Exchange and helped many, many other island nonprofit organizations and individuals in need. The Exchange also helped educate a generation of our children about the "Three Rs" through its school presentations, theatrical productions and the experience of just going to the Exchange. Ditto for the thousands of tourists and guests who have taken the Exchange experience home with them.
Many are sensing the absence of this social and economic hub that we had all grown used to and which in fact had become an important, essential part of our island’s community structure. It’s hard to imagine any enduring community, especially an island community that does not have some such place to exchange its goods.
Orcas Recycling Services, the nonprofit that has always operated the Exchange, is now negotiating with the county to assume control of the entire Orcas transfer station site, including garbage and recycling. For the first time the responsibility for handling our waste and its potential resources will be in the hands of Orcas islanders alone. This offers our Island the opportunity and the challenge to devise a waste management program that serves our unique island needs and our community values. ORS has stepped up to this task with the expectation that with the right business model and community support it can respond to and satisfy our needs.
As part of developing a new Exchange, ORS is sponsoring a gathering of stories, memories and photos about Exchange experiences. These stories will help inform future plans and will be organized into an historical display at the Orcas Library in August. You are invited to add your Exchange stories to this project. Take your story and comments on how the Exchange has affected you to the library desk or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rebuilding a new Exchange will require the support and cooperation of our entire community. This project is a step toward gathering that support. Often it is necessary to lose something to really appreciate its value. The Exchange, “What’s it worth to you?” Let’s find out. Thanks.
George Post lives in Olga and Kim Skarda Anderson lives in Eastsound.