By Michael Howell
Thanks to a grant from the Rapp Family Foundation, a program is being put together to recycle old, unwanted clothing that the valley’s clothing thrift and free stores can’t find a home for locally. Foundation president Tom Brader handed over a check for $17,235 to some of the participating partners last Thursday to help jumpstart the project. The full list of partners in the project includes the Retired Seniors Volunteer Program (RSVP), the Stevensville Clothes Closet, The Commodity Center, SAFE On First, and Ravalli County Recycling (RCR).
The Rapp Family Foundation was formed by Peg and Howard Rapp in 1990. Since that time, according to Brader, the Foundation has handed out over $1 million in grants to over 200 non-profit organizations in the valley. He said in the past grants were limited to about $3,000.
“But this time we decided to do something different,” said Brader. He said the foundation board decided to offer a larger grant possibility, called the Community Focus Grant, which would encourage non-profit groups in the community to get together and do what individually they might not be able to do. No limit was placed on the amount of the grant applications and six were received.
“It was a difficult choice,” said Brader, “but this one had immediate success potential.”
He said it was also a surprising proposal, as not a single board member was aware of the disposal problem facing the clothing thrift stores in the valley and what it cost. This proposal could quickly produce savings that could be re-directed to the primary purpose of each of the participating non-profits. At the Stevensville Clothes Closet this means supporting the mission of supplying free clothing and other household items to those in need. Savings on trash bills at The Commodity Center will support their mission of helping community members in need with prescription drug costs or utility assistance and to support the Hamilton chemotherapy support fund, and to provide two $800 college books scholarships, as well as donations to other non-profits. SAFE On First will use its savings to support its mission of helping victims of sexual and domestic violence.
The total cost of initiating the program and running it for a year is estimated at $44,935. The Foundation’s $17,235 grant will be matched by $27,700 in other donations and work-in-kind by the various non-profits and other volunteers. After a year’s operation it is planned to be a self-sustaining program.
Molly Hackett from the Stevensville Clothes Closet said two guys on the staff at the free store came up with the idea of doing something to reduce the trash bill. They were paying to dump a lot of otherwise usable clothing at the landfill. Sharon Bladen, from the RSVP Volunteer Center, picked up the ball and became point person in the grant writing efforts. With the valley’s three clothing thrift stores on board, Ravalli County Recycling Operations Manager Chip Britting located a company called Collective Recycling in Laurel, Montana that “jumped at the chance to purchase the recyclables.” Britting and RCR board member Doug Soehren then put together a business plan that Bladen used in making the grant application.
It is estimated that 50 tons of reusable or recyclable items will be kept out of the landfill. Local thrift shops have estimated savings of about $4,200 annually spent on trash fees.
The plan is, after the first year, to arrange a credit system in which RCR receives the income from the sale of the recyclables and credits it to the pickup costs, making the program self-sustaining. The Stevensville Clothes Closet will serve as the fiscal agent and pay for approved expenses.
Through some kind of serendipity, RCR just happens to have recently acquired a 40 foot long enclosed van trailer for dry, rodent proof storage of clothing items. The grant money will be used, in part, to purchase a rechargeable electric forklift that can be used indoors to handle large bundles of clothing and for the purchase of the necessary pickup bins to be placed at the various stores. The RCR will also eventually fire up its baler, which was donated to the cause by Bitterroot Disposal, and be able to compact its recyclables, bumping up the price and making the operation even more successful.
“This will make an enormous difference to the Stevensville Clothes Closet,” said Hackett. She said based on current practices her store expects to produce about two 300-gallon bins every week for the recycling. She said about one and a half times that is currently being sent to the landfill.
Soehren said that The Commodity Center would probably produce even more.
“Sharing a surplus is what excites me,” said Soehren. “Turning garbage into a sellable product is what RCR is all about.”