If you tried to guess where Christina Laffey got her bike, iPod and even her kitten, chances are you wouldn’t guess they all came from Facebook. And you definitely wouldn’t guess that all it cost her was trading eight postage stamps and an unused gift card.
Laffey, a fourth-year social work student, is not a stranger to the Facebook group, Bunz Trading Zone, commonly known as Bunz. When she replied to a post about fostering a cat, Mila, she had no idea that Mila was one of 12 kittens recently saved from being euthanized. Laffey fell in love and decided to adopt the kitten, with the other Bunz member even paying for the first month of food.
The Toronto-based Facebook group was created in 2013 and now has about 30,000 members, with copycat groups popping up throughout Canada. To adapt to the high popularity of the group, an official app, BUNZ, was launched on two weeks ago.
Feel-good stories are a common occurrence in Bunz, a community where goods are swapped and bartered for anything other than cash. With the addition of an app, Bunz is quickly becoming not only a phenomenon in Toronto, but a standard way for students to shop without spending a dime.
“The trade posts that seem to get the most love are when someone needs help,” said Emily Bitze, the creator of app. “Bunz has repatriated lost [and] stolen bikes, computers, pets and wallets. A whole ton of members came together this past Christmas to help a family in need of Christmas presents. There are so many more stories like this,” she said.
The online community welcomes members to trade anything and everything. The most common trades are for TTC tokens and alcohol. The only exceptions being no illegal trades and absolutely no money allowed. Ignoring either of these rules can get you kicked out of the private group.
Rebecca Krauss, a masters student at Ryerson, jokingly posted in the group looking to trade a cat for a dog. She was blocked from the group the next day.
“I really do feel as though I am now being excluded from a valuable resource,” she said. Krauss also tried to offer money for an iPad, another reason she believes she may have been banned.
Bunz was created in 2013 when Bitze realized she was tight on money for food — any broke student can surely relate. “I was hungry one day and wanted to have spaghetti and could not complete the task due to lack of tomatoes. I had no money,” said Bitze.
That night, she started a group for her friends to trade items, which would grow into a city-wide online barter system.
Madelyn Alexander, an OCAD student, used Bunz to find supplies for a school project.
“I needed to find a bunch of dildos for a photoshoot and I didn’t want to spend $300,” she said. “A sex shop actually got back to me (on a Bunz post) and let me come into the shop and hand pick whatever dildos I wanted for the shoot.”
Michelle Schwartz, a staff member at Ryerson’s learning and teaching office, has only had a few successful trades, but still continues to stay up-to-date with the group.
“It really drives home how Toronto can be like a small town sometimes,” she said. “I see my friends on there all the time and wonder what they are up to based on what they are trying to trade.”
The group’s rapid growth inspired Bitze and some friends to create the BUNZ app. The app offers quicker and easier ways to organize a trade between members and looks like a hybrid of a dating app and Instagram. Right now, it’s only compatible with Apple products, but will be available for Android users soon.