Arms outstretched, Dana Lynn gives a man she’s never met before this moment a big hug. It might have seemed a little awkward out of context but the man returned the hug and a new friend was made, a bond formed. All over a few fresh berries.
Sound a tad strange? To put what just happened into perspective, the hug and good will was essentially an economic transaction. Not one we hear about often — trading floors, investments, even basic cash for services — this was an exchange within the gifting or sharing economy.
For Lynn’s business in downtown Sidney, this different kind of economy is essential. It comes from a different place than the simple exchange of money for goods and services. It’s a way to connect with people, offer each one something they need and to, well, share the love.
At the Love Café on Beacon Avenue, Lynn is trying out this grand experiment of gifting and sharing. In the example above with the hug between new friends, Lynn had just met the man who brought her café some fresh berries. The fruit allowed Lynn and her business partner, and daughter, Cayla Meuser to make smoothies and more. In exchange, the man with the berries got a free drink. And that hug.
At the root of it, gifting and sharing doesn’t sound all that complicated. For Lynn, however, reaching a point where she could try something new — like opening a business (the Love Café has been open for nearly two years) and using it to spread the idea of a gifting and sharing economy — took a past life to overcome.
“I had addictions issues and really had to change my life,” Lynn said.
“I needed to become more secure, feed my body better. My immune system was breaking down and I was, back then, basically on my way out. If I didn’t change something, I would probably be very sick right now.”
Intervention in her life by her daughter helped get Lynn on a better path. While Lynn said she decided to live for her daughter at that time, she also realized she needed to love herself first. She worked hard to shed the negative around her, change her own words and language to get to a more positive place in her life. A better attitude, she explained, meant having better thoughts about herself and looking for the good in the world.
“My daughter caught on too. It has been such a beautiful experience as a mother to have your daughter nearby to help find those good places.”
The mother-daughter team decided to go into business together. Meuser had experience working for other cafes and juice bars and the two of them found space on Sidney’s Beacon Avenue. They had support along the way to help them get off their feet, and much of their equipment in the café has come from other shops willing to part with it. Almost immediately, Lynn and Meuser were finding gifts and sharing with other businesses in order to establish themselves.
Lynn said they hope to make people feel powerful about interacting with them and make all of their customers feel at home.
Gifting and sharing make up a portion of their business operations, not all, but it’s here where Lynn said they can really share the love.
“I feel the monetary system can cause a lot of divisions between people,” she explained.
“Sharing can help ensure people don’t go without.”
It didn’t take long for the idea to catch on, as she put the word out through various social media resources. The goal is to create a place, she said, where people can share what they have or offer a gift. They may not want something in return, but the options are always there. Using connections like Free Exchange Victoria and other online sites, Lynn said they’ve been able to reach like-minded people.
Often, they are able to provide the Love Café with what it needs, and in return, Lynn and Meuser can give back from what they produce. There’s also no obligation to give back if you have received something — no pressure and no guilt, especially if the receiver isn’t able to reciprocate.
“Paying it forward, we’ve all heard of that,” said Lynn.
“That’s all part of this, unconditional giving. It’s a loving process, that’s how I feel.”
She admitted the Love Café still has its rent to pay and adheres to the traditional systems of exchange. Still, they seek out as many ways as possible to take part in gifting and sharing.
“It’s about everybody getting what they need.”
Lynn said she hopes the Love Café can be a hub, a gathering place, where people can ask about gifting and sharing and learn more. She said people’s reaction to the idea, so far, has been positive.
“It’s not about money being gained, we want to see people’s hearts opened. It’s about not living for your possessions. That’s not for everyone.”
Back to the hug from the beginning of the story.
Lynn said that doesn’t happen every day at the Love Café, but it was part of opening up to other people through the idea of sharing something you have with someone who needs it.
“There can be no holding back,” Lynn said. “We should be all looking for abundance in our lives.”