Photographer Elise Giordano had what felt like a needle-in-a-haystack problem.
On a commercial shoot for Visit Anchorage, she snapped a perfect photo — three happy cyclists on the trail beside Eklutna Lake, in all its glory.
But then cyclists zoomed past Giordano and she needed them to sign model releases.
So she posted the photo on a Facebook group called “Find Olive the Things” and asked if anyone could identify the trio.
“I was expecting, you know, to have to wait a few days [to hear] ‘Oh, I think that’s my friend,’ or whatever,” Giordano recalled.
But “Find Olive the Things” produces feats of magic on the regular. This Anchorage-centric group has 19,000 members, or Olives, as they call each other.
Collectively, they have located alligator meat and divorce lawyers, piano tuners and pork tamales. They’ve advised on home exorcism, snow tires and waxing where the sun don’t shine. During the pandemic, they helped parents of hungry babies find scarce formula — even breast milk. Olives say they’ve seen the power of social media harnessed for more good than they would’ve imagined.
Ella Ede turned to the Olives when her French exchange student was homesick.
“On her wish list for her birthday was: I would like to have a real French croissant,” Ede said
The Olives came through with Anchorage bakery suggestions, as she hoped. And then the magic happened: A Delta flight attendant named Tiffany saw Ede’s post.
“She sent me a message and said, ‘I’m currently in Paris, and I will bring you some French croissants,’” Ede said. “And I thought, are you kidding me? That’s amazing.”
They met at a gas station for the handoff. Ede said she tried to pay but Tiffany wouldn’t take any compensation.
That kind of generosity is what users love about “Find Olive the Things.” And the niceness doesn’t happen purely by accident.
“That’s my No. 1 rule is to be kind,” said Janelle Abad, the founder and co-administrator of the group.
She’s a hair stylist at an Abbot Loop salon. While waiting for her first client of the day, she explained that she’d been a member of its predecessor, a group called “Where are the Goddamn Olives?” and when it folded, she decided it needed a reincarnation. She opted for a gentler name. The pun was borrowed from a children’s book “Olive, the Other Reindeer.”
“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 be sarcastic for a random comment,” she said. “Like, people don’t have time for that … So I do weed a lot of that out.”
Other rules: No politics or vaccine debates. No sales. And don’t suggest people shop online. Abad says one of the most satisfying things about the group is that it helps local businesses and artisans.
Another plus: The peek it provides into other people’s lives. For instance, this intriguing post from December: “ISO (In search of) whole frozen jellyfish. Any leads?”
The poster was Spenard artist Dani Foss. She specializes in pet preservation and curiosities of nature. Her studio brims with dried flowers and animal parts.
She offered our photographer a tour of the place.
“So this is part of a full-cat commission,” she said of a current project, pointing to some whiskers and other hair samples. “And then the cat itself is out with my (scavenger) beetles right now, processing.”
Foss often gets materials from estate sales, or from her friends in the trapper community.
“You get some really cool things — like, I got a bunch of baby beavers I was able to preserve!” she said, reaching for a liquid-filled orb.
She held what looked like a snowglobe in the palm of her hand, but pressed against the glass was a chubby, clawed creature, curled around its placenta.
Foss has a customer who is really, really into jellyfish. He commissioned her for a wet specimen display. That’s why she turned to her favorite Facebook group and asked where to locate a whole frozen jellyfish.
The Olives were stumped. Foss got no fruitful leads. Still, Foss’s love for “Find Olive the Things” is undiminished. Among the qualities she likes is that no one judges her there for her unusual choice of art materials.
“Watching people come together on that page, honestly, like, reaffirms my faith in humanity, that we’re all actually good people,” Foss said.
And Elise Giordano? The photographer who was trying to identify the cyclists at Lake Eklutna?
“Within six minutes, the gal at the center of the photo had reached out saying, ‘Oh, actually, that’s me. And here’s all my friends that are in the photo with me,’” Giordano said.
That ‘gal’ was Olympic skier Holly Brooks. She might have responded even faster but she hesitated, momentarily self-conscious, after a friend drew the photo to her attention.
“She tagged me like a minute after the photographer posted it,” Brooks said. “I’m not always looking at my phone, but I was on my phone at that moment.”
She and her friends — Christy Marvin and Najeeby Quinn — were happy to help and delighted to get a copy of the photo.
Brooks swears she doesn’t monitor “Find Olive the Things” 24/7. But she is a fan. She thinks it represents the bright side of social media — making the big world small, one random quest at a time.