Recent news has been painful. Men and women of a certain age find themselves having to protest again \u2014 or is it \u201cstill\u201d \u2014 while basic human rights are threatened by appointed-for-life members of an increasingly untrustworthy body. We just passed the sad mark of 1 million dead from COVID in this country, a figure which this PBS article tried to explain thus: Put on your sneakers and head out for a walk. Count every step. Keep walking for nearly seven days. That\u2019s a million steps. Meanwhile, yet another white supremacist went into a Buffalo supermarket and killed 10 people and wounded three, and by the time you read this, that mass shooting most likely will have been replaced by another. Other news stories have included the kind of money most of us will never see in our bank accounts \u2014 $44 billion for Twitter (though that purchase appears to be on hold), $40 billion in new aid to Ukraine. So let\u2019s celebrate the Hartford Really Really Free Market, where things from clothing to household goods to diapers to games, are free. Really. No questions asked. Just come take stuff (or, you have extra stuff, come drop it off for someone else to take). The really, really free market \u2014 you\u2019ll see the reason for the double-modifier soon \u2014 began in the capital city in May 2020, during the throes of the pandemic, when a group of friends decided to organize a place where people who were struggling (and there were a lot of people who fell into that category) could come get things they needed, without paying anything. The friends had already been sharing items \u2014 especially food \u2014 and expanding the larder seemed a natural progression. \u201cI can\u2019t tell you how many vegetables I got\u201d from the earlier arrangement, said Norm Lebron, who teamed with friends Zo\u00eb Chatfield and Kim Adamski and others to create the free market. Though nonprofits have been providing free goods and services for centuries, this particular enterprise was started in the United States \u2014 depending on which source you consult \u2014 by anarchists who 20-some years ago wanted to model something other than capitalism. It\u2019s not a bartering system. If you have something you\u2019re not using, you drop it off at the market, and then, if someone needs that item, they take it home. The idea quickly spread and now really, really free markets are held in places such as Washington, D.C., New York, and San Francisco. Anecdotal evidence says the pandemic gave birth to even more sites. Market rules are loose, but organizers are urged to print fliers in multiple languages, avoid noting who contributed what, and include in the offerings not just tangible items such as furniture and books, but also services such as bicycle repairs, and entertainment and games. Organizers are urged to make their markets uniquely their community\u2019s own. Now about that modifier. We are not trained, living as we do in late-stage capitalism, to trust that something doesn\u2019t cost ... well, something. In fact, the notion of walking away without opening their wallets threw off a few passersby who stopped to explore the racks on May Day\u2019s Hartford Really Really Free Market, held at a former library branch with a community garden (\u201cedible landscaping\u201d) out back. \u201cWait,\u201d said one woman as she rifled through the clothing. \u201cThis is all free?\u201d Yes. Free. Really, really. She frowned but turned back to the racks, which had no back-of-the-closet goods. Folded nearby were clothing bags from Nordstrom and JoS. A. Banks. The main attraction of this particular market was two racks of prom dresses, some with the tags still on them. One slight woman made two trips from her car with two large broken bags that looked like colorful sausages stuffed with dresses the color of jewels. \u201cThere\u2019s more in the car,\u201d the woman said, laughing and puffing from the effort. Where did she get all these beautiful frocks? \u201cSo, to make a long story short ...\u201d she said, and then one of her children demanded her attention, and the people who helped her hang the gowns were left to imagine the story. Another woman walked up carrying a strapless dress the color of emeralds. She said the gown was the bridesmaid\u2019s dress she wore for her sister\u2019s wedding. How often can you wear the same dress, given that any fancy occasion will probably attract the same people who saw you at the wedding? Donors brought in so many dresses, the free marketers held a few back to restock the racks as they emptied. Nearby on a rack were sparkly shoes and makeup and scattered jewelry. Inside the former library were household items and books. One woman left with two dresses thrown over one arm, and then she returned for more \u2014 for her daughters, she said. We learned a lot about ourselves during the pandemic, and not all of it was good. But we also saw radical acts of decency, such as when a community pitches in to make sure a high school junior or senior has just the right dress for a big night. And that\u2019s good news. The next Hartford Really Really Free Market will be 11 a.m.-2 p.m. May 22 at The People\u2019s Ballroom, 3340 Main St. The Big Red Book Truck will distribute free children\u2019s books, and Connecticut Harm Reduction Alliance will offer free HIV and HCV testing, as well as free Narcan. The organizers are hoping for more diapers, formula, (of course), period products, unopened toiletries, and non-perishable food. For now, they have enough clothing, kids\u2019 toys, and household items. For more information, the group is on Facebook. Susan Campbell is the author of \u201cFrog Hollow: Stories from an American Neighborhood,\u201d \u201cTempest-Tossed: The Spirit of Isabella Beecher Hooker\u201d and \u201cDating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism and the American Girl.\u201d She is Distinguished Lecturer at the University of New Haven, where she teaches journalism.