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In search of alligator meat or croissants from Paris? Try your local Facebook group

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Cyberbullying, disinformation, fraud. We all know social media has its downsides, but happily, the story you're about to hear isn't about that. In Anchorage, a local Facebook group has brought together Alaskans in common cause. It's a group for finding things - anything - a plumber, a hedgehog, the owner of the pooch who you accidentally took home from the skating rink, or someone to write theme music, like BJ Leiderman writes ours. As Alaska Public Media's Liz Ruskin reports, the group's users tend to find all of these things along with a nicer view of humanity.

LIZ RUSKIN, BYLINE: The group is called Find Olive the Things, a play on words stemming from one woman's quest for gourmet olives. It's where Ella Ede turned when her French exchange student was homesick.

ELLA EDE: She was turning 16, and she gave me her birthday list. And on her list was a real French croissant.

RUSKIN: Group members came through with Anchorage bakery recommendations. That's what Ede expected. But then the magic happened.

EDE: A flight attendant named Tiffany, who happened to be in Paris at that very time, posted, I'm in Paris. I'll bring you some French croissants. And I thought, are you kidding me? That's amazing.

RUSKIN: They met at a gas station for the hand-off. Ede says she tried to pay, but Tiffany wouldn't take any compensation. That kind of serendipity and generosity is what users love about Find Olive the Things. The group has over 19,000 members, so it has reach in a city as small as Anchorage. Collectively, they've located alligator meat and divorce lawyers. They've advised on home exorcism, frozen pipes and waxing where the sun don't shine. The co-administrator of the group, Janelle Abad, is a stylist at a hair salon. She says her No. 1 rule for Find Olive the Things is to be kind.

JANELLE ABAD: It is a safe space. I don't want anyone to come in and make fun of you or give you a hard time for this or just be sarcastic for a random comment. Like, people don't have time for that.

RUSKIN: Abad loves the group helps local businesses and artisans. Another plus? The peek it provides into other people's lives. For instance, in December, a woman named Dani Foss posted that she was looking for a whole frozen jellyfish. Turns out, she's an artist who specializes in pet preservation and curiosities of nature. She works out of a studio in her home.

DANI FOSS: Hey.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR CHIME)

FOSS: Come on in.

RUSKIN: Inside, shelves and drawers brim with dried flowers and animal parts.

FOSS: I don't know if you're getting what's in those jars, but there's little sea horses, and there's dehydrated mice.

RUSKIN: Foss reaches for a liquid-filled orb. It's like a snow globe, but with an unborn beaver floating inside. She says she wants to do the same with a jellyfish, but the Facebook group was stumped. No fruitful leads. Still, Foss' love for Find Olive the Things is undiminished. She knows her genre isn't everyone's idea of art, but she appreciates that she doesn't feel judged by the group.

FOSS: Watching people come together on that page honestly, like, reaffirms my faith in humanity that we're all actually good people.

RUSKIN: That's how these Alaska Facebook users find joy, making the big world small one random quest at a time.

For NPR News, I'm Liz Ruskin in Anchorage.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Liz Ruskin - Alaska Public Media