Local church 'recycles for a reason'

Wednesday, May 6, 2015 - 23:00

On a recent Friday morning, shoppers browsed overflowing tables loaded with used items. Women studied clothes, children dug through stacks of toys, and people inspected everything from furniture and kitchen items to books and holiday decorations, all in the gym at the United Methodist Church of Chugiak. On the surface, this event looked like a giant garage sale. But it was much more.

For more than two years, church volunteers have led an innovative recycling program called Recycle for a Reason. Two Saturdays per month, they accept donations of gently-used items and then hold a two-day sale. Sale isn’t exactly the right word, though. It’s more of a matchmaking effort, a distribution event. The program’s goal is to connect people and service organizations with useful items. The volunteers are middlemen, redirectors of rummage. They take in, sort, and display hand-me-downs and then work to find them new homes.

Many patrons make a donation for the items they find at the distribution event, although nothing is priced. The church asks that people consider their personal budgets and offer what is reasonable for their situation.

In April, Recycle for a Reason helped a woman who lost all of her belongings in a house fire. She was among the first patrons of the sale, and she quietly purchased a pair of love seats. Only later did the volunteers learned of her situation.

“She came back with a friend, to shop some more,” said Kay Abrams, one of the program’s leaders. “The friend told us about the fire and how she was helping the lady find things for an apartment. When we learned that, we refunded her money right away. I told her, ‘You are who we are here to help.’”

The program also distributes to charities in the Anchorage bowl and beyond. The church invites organizations to come and take whatever they need and will set aside requested items. Head Start asked for a vacuum cleaner. Peters Creek Chapel took baby furniture for new families. The Diabetes Association collected baskets for a fundraiser. Teachers gather school supplies. Animal welfare organizations bundle up rugs and bedding. The Eagle River Baptist Church takes stock for its clothes closet. At the end of each sale, Big Brothers Big Sisters collects the leftovers and sells them to Value Village. To date, 93 organizations have benefited.

The spirit of giving that infuses R4R, as church members call it, has helped the ambitious program succeed.

Abrams considers the program contagious.

“We reach out to someone; they reach out to someone else. It’s a domino effect,” she said.

Cathy John, a Palmer resident and R4R volunteer, said, “People who come are so please we are doing this to help others. They are overwhelmed by it.”

Recycle for a Reason has also been a financial success, earning a small but steady income. After program leaders pay expenses, they reinvest their earnings in the community.

“The church now has at its disposal goods and money to help people,” said Abrams. Recently, Recycle for a Reason gave a young couple with transportation problems a pair of bicycles.

The program developed in 2013 after the Salvation Army closed its Eagle River thrift store, and community members needed a place to donate used items. With plans now underway to reopen the thrift store, patrons want to know if Recycle for a Reason will continue. Abrams answer is straightforward. “We’ll continue until we’re not needed,” she said.

For those interested in donating serviceable items to the program, the next drop off days are April 25 and May 6, followed by the distribution and recycle sale on May 30th. For more information, please email recycle4reason@umcchugiak.org.

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