Meet our community hero: Kerby Lau

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Tell us about yourself:

I was born and raised in San Francisco, I went to Lincoln High School and after graduation, I joined the airforce as a firefighter before becoming the civilian firefighter that I am now. (been a San Francisco firefighter for 27 years now and might have 3 years left) I also enjoy fishing and traveling.

I dedicate a good part of my time collecting furniture that gets put out on the curb and redistribute them to others who need it.

How did you get started with giving away things?

It all started in august of last year. Since we weren’t able to travel anywhere we decided to do some spring cleaning starting with my own house and then my in-laws. The stuff we decided to give away we posted on a Facebook group called Buy Nothing San Francisco. It really didn’t take long before I found that giving and helping others really made me happy. I’ve been a firefighter for my whole life pretty much, and part of that job is helping people, so giving is really an extension of that. It was easy to transition and so I started to do this on the side and it has been a whirlwind.

What makes you do what you do? What keeps you doing it?

It’s all about being nice to be nice. Helping others that have had a hardship because of Covid-19. I noticed that I really enjoy doing this for the community, seeing the smiles on people’s faces when they receive stuff. I enjoy getting my family involved as well.

It’s not to make some income, I don’t need the income. I have a job, my wife has a job. The ‘thrill of the hunt makes me want to keep doing this, it’s exciting to find new stuff knowing it can always help other people out. The other day this woman tried to slip me some money for a beautiful table she was picking up, and I said ‘don’t be silly.’

What does your day-to-day look like?

When I’m not working my firefighting job, my mornings start off at 5 am. I drive around the neighborhoods in the City looking for things people throw out. I usually return home by 7-8 am with a full SUV. The rest of the morning is dedicated to cleaning and prepping things to be given away. The early afternoons and the evenings are dedicated to giving and setting up times for people to pick up things. The garage is usually shut down by 9:30 pm.

What are some of the challenges you face?

Well, a lot of people think that giving is pretty easy but giving can be a bit challenging in the sense that it is definitely time-consuming having to go out of your way to pick up the stuff and make sure that everything is in the best condition to be given. Refined and cleaned. But I do have to say that as challenging as it can be, it’s always worth it. There are so much good and so many people in the Buy Nothing community willing to give and help.

Finding stuff isn’t so challenging. I’ve never gone out in the morning and come back empty-handed – so many people are moving, you go out any weekend through Hayes Valley, Noe Valley, and Marina and there will be stuff on the street corners.

How has covid affected you and how do you stay positive?

Well, covid has affected all of us in some way, it definitely made things inconvenient and definitely missed some things like traveling, but as a family, we make sure to stay positive. Overall we have been doing okay and we are thankful for it. Really, it’s other people who are struggling, and we are happy to help those who need it, who have had a more difficult time.

So before we go, what would be some advice you would give to anyone looking to pick up free stuff from the Internet?

The key things are just be nice and don’t flake. It’s always nicer to work with folks who are polite and considerate. I do this for fun and to help, so help me help you!

It’s the little things that make the difference, being responsive when messaging, saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ as well as being available to pick up promptly are huge. And if you say you can pick something up right away, even better! There is usually a huge demand for free things, so that really helps.