Some might call it a phenomenon; a need was identified, some faithful people explored how to meet the need, and now many groups benefit from the resulting organized effort of Recycle with a Reason.
Many organizations in Southcentral Alaska provide important services to people in need, but “Recycle for a Reason” provides a wholesale supply of gently used items at minimal cost. It all began when the community of Chugiak-Eagle River lost its last thrift store more than four years ago. Some members of the United Methodist Church of Chugiak (UMCC) choreographed a unique recycling program that continues to this day.
“For some organizations we are able to give grants to help out, while others might get specific items to support their mission,” explained Kay Abrams. “None of this generated any money for the church. We say ‘name your own price’ and sometimes, but not often, we have to ask if what is being offered is ‘fair and reasonable.’”
The original problem: Upon the sudden closing of the last thrift store in this area there were no longer any places within 15 miles to donate usable household goods. Community members could either lug them to Anchorage or put them in the landfill. A member of the community, not from this church, suggested the possibility of filling a need through Christian service.
“Our membership vows say: ‘I will support the Methodist Church with my prayers, my presents, my service and my witness,” explained Abrams. “By “service” we don’t mean service to the church, but service to the community. We feel this is building the kingdom of God.”
An Ad Hoc committee was organized through the UMCC’s Church Council to lay out a business plan for recycling useable goods. Beginning with only UMCC volunteers, the program is now able to operate through the efforts of members of several different churches and community volunteers.
“At the onset, we never imagined the expansion we’ve experienced,” enthused Abrams. To date UMCC has contributed on a wholesale basis to 132 organizations with goods or grants. A portion of the funds are deducted for cost of doing business, but net profits distributed have totaled over $60,000 thus far.
So, here is how it works: Collection Saturday is the last and first Saturday of each calendar month. Two days before each Collection Saturday, a crew of volunteers post reusable wooden signs on a four-mile stretch of old Glenn Highway leading to the church from each direction. The day before Collection Saturday three people arrive to set up display tables in the Great Hall, set out the bins and other assorted containers, prepare the check-in table, and label tables where sorters will stack available pre-inspected goods. On Collection Saturday all donated items are reviewed; all stained and ripped clothing is bagged and given to a non-profit for sale as recycled fabric, and any broken items are put in a free pile or into the dumpster. With no unattended collection bins, very few unusable items are received over the designated five hour collection period.
The choreographed volunteer component of this process is noteworthy at each of the various phases.
Dependable packer “Sherpas” arrive on cue AFTER Collection Saturday to move filled totes and boxes to an exterior storage shed and deconstruct the church’s Community Center for the rest of the week’s activities. This completes Phase I.
A monthly Recycle Sale and Distribution is organized and produced in similar fashion; beginning the following Wednesday–when the road sign crew again posts announcements of the next event along Old Glenn.
Another crew arrives Wednesday evening to set up display tables and Community Center signs describing categories of available goods on each. This fills the great hall. Thursday afternoon a crew brings in the Phase I inspected, sorted, and labeled boxes of reusable goods from storage. Simultaneously, another group arranges goods for display. Yet another crew comes in the evening to finish the job–because many hands make light work.
The actual distribution sale, much like a garage or rummage sale, occurs on the designated and publicized Friday and Saturday. A large sign greets shoppers declaring: “Name Your Own Price”. This is followed by: “Make if fair and reasonable.” No prices are set, and when asked by shoppers, cashiers simply ask: “What fits your budget?”
They don’t quibble. Phase II is meant to get rid of stuff. Nothing remains at the end of the three-phase cycle.
After the two-day sale event, on Saturday afternoon, another crew arrives to pack all the left-overs and restore the Community Center room for the coming week. Monday morning, yet another crew meets the Big Brothers/Big Sisters donation truck and all the unsold goods are loaded for their next destination. By conclusion of Phase III multiple churches and individuals have shared in service to the community, cash grants, and recycled items, through this virtuous cycle.
Galatians 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
Donn Liston has lived in Alaska since 1962 and in Eagle River since 2010. He was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News during pipeline construction and is now a teacher after becoming certified in Juneau after living there 20 years. He has taught Adult Basic Education for the last 10 years.