THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE EXPIRING PENCILS

We are not to throw away those things which can benefit our neighbor. Goods are called good because they can be used for good: they are instruments for good, in the hands of those who use them properly.
— Clement of Alexandria
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If two companies merge (for example OfficeMax and Office Depot) and they have branded items they sell, anything marked with the old logos or names are useless. Apparently the purchaser would become so confused by this that it’s better to discard millions of dollars of equipment and items than to suffer the indignity of having an outdated design or moniker.

Consumerism at its finest.

Did you know that pencils have an expiration date? Seriously. This is not the setup for a joke. The erasers on pencils eventually dry out, and this, according to pencil manufacturers, deems said pencils unusable. Stores that sell pencils are instructed by the companies that make them that their products must be pulled from the shelves and not sold once they reach a certain age, lest consumers associate the dried erasers with an inferior product and then stop buying anything made by that company ever again.

We are a profoundly spoiled society.

People claim they want what’s best for their children. The best clothes, the best opportunities, the best toys, the best distraction devices. Oh, and the best education. I nearly forgot that increasingly distant afterthought. But good education requires an investment in our children. We can’t be bothered to spend money on educating them, so school systems continue to have funding cut, while teachers desperately try to make up for the vital loss by appropriating their own personal funds.

We’re failing our children and teachers.

Despite our excess, so many are in need of so much.

For over 20 years, Ruth Libby, has been quietly yet aggressively tackling these issues in her hometown of Portland, Maine. What started as a passion project in her basement inspired by a request from her son’s kindergarten teacher has grown into an organization housed in a 21,000 sq.ft. warehouse and 7,000 sq. ft. “teacher store” known as Ruth’s Reusable Resources.

All those “expired” pencils? All that office equipment and supplies that have an old logo? Donations from people and local businesses? She’ll take it all and more, then find a teacher, classroom, and student that needs it. In fact, since 1994, Ruth’s has given away more than $60 million worth of surplus furniture, paper, books, office supplies, and computers to schools and non-profits. Let that sink in. Sixty million dollars worth of goods that may have otherwise ended up in a landfill. One persons trash is another’s treasure indeed.

Teachers are incredibly resourceful people. They see scrap bits of fabric and think of a project for their students. They look at egg cartons and see a science lesson in the making. They see possibility in what is normally considered trash, often out of necessity.

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Meanwhile, the average United States citizen has so much unnecessary junk that we’ve run out of places to put it in our homes. Storage facilities are now a $38 billion industry. There are over 45,000 storage facilities across the country, with a total of 2.3 billion square feet of space. That’s just for what we think we need to keep.

The average U.S. citizen generates over 4 pounds of waste per day. That’s more than 1,600 lbs per year per person.

We’ve got to fix something, and pioneers like Ruth are blazing the way. Luckily, she’s not alone. All across the country, similar facilities are springing up. Organizations dedicated to solving multiple problems with one much needed and creative solution. Resource centers operating within the Kids in Need Foundation network. Teaming up to help children with their educational needs. Help teachers access vital resources, help keep useful items out of landfills, and help businesses absolve some of their corporate guilt.

As Ruth matter-of-factly notes, “In the end, it’s good for kids, education, the environment, and businesses.”

Here’s to more people like her who can matter-of-factly help fix the mess we’re making.


HOW YOU CAN HELP

  • Donate funds to Ruth’s or to the Kids in Need Foundation.

  • Donate resources to the Kids in Need Foundation

  • Find a resource center near you here. Then donate to them if you can.

  • Find a resource center near you here. Then volunteer there.

  • Support local, state, and federal initiatives that aim to increase funding for schools.