A flat gray, slightly rusted chain link fence along a vacant gravel lot at the corner of Morris and Washington streets on Bloomington's West Side has been spruced up a bit. While no one has power washed it or painted it, the fence is attracting more than the leaves caught at its base, with winter wardrobe items hanging from the links.
The Giving Fence is the brainchild of Tahnee Lee Lathrop, who owns Retrofit Culture, 1014 W. Washington St., next door to the fence and vacant lot.
"We have our business and live in such an interesting area that is so economically diverse that there are people who have a lot and people who have a little. We live kind of right in those crossroads," said Lathrop. "There are lots of great charities out there that are doing lots of great things but we just thought this was a way to reach more people."
The concept is simple.The instructions are on the banner identifying the fence as the Giving Fence are straightforward: give what you can, take what you need. The fence is now decorated with dozens of bags. Some of the clear bags cover coats. Other small clear bags clothespinned to the fence contain gloves, hats, or scarves.
The idea came about after Lathrop and her husband sorted through their excess winter gear and decided to give it away. Her first thought was to use the fence and considered calling it the "Free Fence." Her husband talked her out of the first name, fearful someone might salvage the fence itself.
Lathrop said she doesn't monitor the fence too closely to give those picking up or dropping off items some privacy, but she said recently a whole family came to the fence and mom, dad, and the kids left with the winter gear they needed.
"So far it has worked out really, really well. Every time I think 'oh my gosh there's barely anything out there,' someone will come and they have 5 coats and fifteen other items and then it 's replenished." said Lathrop. "So so far that has worked out for us just kind of by chance."
People wanting to donate items can get bags inside Retrofit Culture to protect the items from the weather. If the items are already packaged, people can hang items on the fence, without stopping inside her business she describes as carrying "vintage and handmade home decor, gifts, and clothes."
Lathrop said the fence will be seasonal. This summer, she said she plans to provide produce, grown in planters near the fence for anyone who wants the fresh food. She's planning to bring the fence back in this coming fall.
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