Giving a Hand Up by Going Green

Friday, March 04, 2016

It’s not often that a figurative elephant in the room involves an issue that weighs as much as an actual adult male Asian elephant. For years, the 10,000+ pounds of abandoned property Central City Concern collected annually went straight to the landfill. While everyone recognized that this was wasteful and expensive, it was also the only practical way to deal with that amount of stuff. But thanks to some exceptional people and a brand new program—the Recycling and Reuse Operations Center—CCC now has a way to tackle this problem head on in a way that benefits everyone.

Nearly half of Central City Concern’s 1,600+ units of housing are transitional housing units, primarily for people newly engaged with CCC’s addiction treatment services. These individuals are particularly prone to experiencing crises, which can lead to them abruptly leaving their housing. People leave behind assorted items: clothes, linens, kitchen items, and other housewares, most of which CCC has traditionally had to throw away when not reclaimed by their owners.

Recognizing that many of these items could help people moving into Central City Concern housing with little of their own, the CCC Green Team—a group of CCC employees that spearheads sustainability and conservation projects, led by E.V. Armitage, CCC Executive Coordinator—collected and cleaned abandoned dishware, then redistributed them to housing programs. Concerns about bed bugs kept them from doing the same with abandoned clothes and bedding (which accounted for 75% by weight of all the abandoned property). But the success of their dishware re-use project confirmed that there was a need and an opportunity to provide new residents with the basics. All they needed was a process.

They got a process and much, much more by way of Traci Kinden, of REvolve Waste, LLC, a volunteer who also happened to have a passion for minimizing waste, maximizing reuse, and recycling when possible. With the help of the Green Team, Traci collected abandoned property, including bed bug-free clothes, in the basement of a CCC building. She sorted. She cleaned. She organized and got items ready to be reused. She created processes and policies! The basement became a busy hub of giving abandoned property a new life.

Thanks to Traci’s work, many clients who needed items were able to access them almost as soon as they get engaged with CCC services. Saving items that could be reused, identifying items that could be recycled, and throwing things away only when necessary meant this process was more sustainable than ever. Fewer things to throw away meant less pick-up and landfill fees.

“We realized that we could actually achieve a triple bottom line,” said E.V. Armitage. Despite the great work Traci was doing, the amount of property coming in was too much, even with the many volunteer hours she put in. The Green Team realized that they had to think bigger: should this become its own program, with a dedicated paid employee?

   

   

Those questions were given a resounding “yes” when CCC approved the hiring of Jerry Boynton to oversee the brand new Recycling and Reuse Operations Center (ROC), located in CCC’s Medford Building. Similar to Traci, Jerry admits that he’s always had a fascination with recycling. Jerry is deeply familiar with the types of things CCC’s residents need. He previously worked sorting all types of donations for another agency. In other words, he’s perfect for this unique job.

Abandoned property in CCC housing units, as well as most in-kind donations, are sent to the ROC for processing. Jerry weighs every bag that arrives, sprays things down for an initial cleaning, and then carefully picks through all the contents. Impractical things or items in poor condition are sorted for recycling. Even unusable textiles are sent to a company that recycles fabric into washcloths! Only things that have no use and absolutely can’t be recycled are thrown away.

Basic items in good condition that can be used by clients are saved and washed; even clean items are put through a high heat cycle as a precaution against bed bugs. Jerry keeps many basic items at the ROC after processing, but he also redistributes to several other housing properties, as well as CCC’s Employment Access Center. Recently, the ROC has begun sharing items with other local organizations like Dress for Success, City Team Ministries, and Street Roots.


At the end of the day, the ROC successfully hits the triple bottom line: the financial, the environmental, and to top it off, the social. These efforts turn what were likely negative and traumatic circumstances that led to someone abandoning their property into an opportunity to help someone who needs a hand up.

Folks looking to start a new chapter of their lives using items that were given a second run. Talk about fresh starts.

“I get hugs galore when people come to the ROC to get things they need. It means a lot to them that they can get things to help them feel home a little faster,” Jerry says. “I love it.”