January 20, 2021 Beth Lipoff
If you’re artistic but don’t fancy dumpster-diving to find inspiring materials, there’s a much cleaner way to find objects to recycle into creative endeavors. Scraps KC has been repackaging and repurposing artsy materials for years.
In the last four years, they’ve steered approximately 170 tons of supplies away from landfills, estimates Brenda Mott, Scraps KC’s executive director.
“We educate people on the environment. We try to focus on reduce, reuse, and refuse, rather than recycle, because recycling uses a lot of our precious resources,” Mott says.
Scraps KC partners with schools and educators in a few ways. A few schools collect end of year school supplies that kids would throw out and give them to Scraps KC, and Scraps KC provides many educators with classroom supplies when they need them.
And there’s a bonus—the profits go toward helping homeless folks in Kansas City as well as education programs.
“Our main goal is to transform things that are unwanted into things that have value, whether it’s a half-used tube of paint, and it creates a beautiful picture, or whether it’s somebody who sleeps on the street, and we can provide some friendship, some food, hopefully move them off the street and walk with them as they move into a new environment,” Mott says. “Those are the transformations that we love to see.”
It’s not just the money that helps, either. Mott encourages anyone to volunteer, homeless or housing secure, and everyone works together to clean and restore materials. She estimates between one and five homeless volunteers turn up each day, with many returning weekly or monthly.
“It breaks down barriers of our community members with the homeless as they work side-by-side with them,” Mott says.
Although they do provide some supplies to homeless people, it’s truly a team effort. Those who receive supplies volunteer inside the store.
“We also think it also builds them up and helps them feel differently about themselves gives them hope for moving forward. Not everyone wants to get off the street, but we want to be here to support them. Even those people who want to stay on the street forever, they may come to us for real information,” Mott says.
Many homeless folks came to them for pandemic information in the face of numerous rumors they’d heard.
This whole operation didn’t all come together immediately. When Mott started, she thought she’d recycle milk jugs and fruit clamshells—but there was a problem.
“It turned out nobody wanted those,” Mott says. “Then all of the sudden, the creative community had heard of us, and they started bringing us paints and specialty papers and textiles and that’s really where we transformed what we reused and what we sold for reuse.”
In addition to paints and papers, Scraps KC has a large stock of fabric, notions—and pretty much anything else you might need to express yourself creatively. All of it is based on donations.
“We’ve never done any advertising or marketing. Everything is word of mouth or social media. People come for specific reasons [like] art supplies they don’t want to give to another resale store. They know somebody who really wants them is going to find them here,” Mott says.
“We sometimes get very neatly organized donations, like a nice baggie full of pom-poms. Sometimes, we get a drawer dumped into a box. Sometimes, we get one pom-pom,” Mott says.
That’s where the volunteers shine. They measure, sort, and repackage things so they’re more useful to those who come to shop at Scraps KC.
Gladstone resident Blaine Shepherd, a graduate student studying costuming, missed working in his school’s costume shop as he took his classes online. He found Scraps KC when he went hunting for fabric.
“I really like doing the mundane tasks of rolling the fabric and organizing it and making it look good. Now they utilize my skills in fabric identification and what I know through costuming. I give advice on what I would want to buy or what’s the worst of something,” he says.
Although he volunteers in the store once a week, he also brings home projects to work on in between his shifts.
For Nora Utech, a physical therapist from Lenexa, volunteering was a way to get out of the house.
“It’s nice for me to have a task where I can use my hands and unplug from technology for a bit. There’s always something to do, always something different,” Utech says.
The welcoming atmosphere has also made Utech’s experience a good one.
“Everybody there has been really friendly. They treat you with a lot of respect. [They’re] welcoming to all walks of life,” she says.
Both Shepherd and Utech began volunteering during the pandemic.
True to its varied stock, Scraps KC does a little bit of everything, from working with a community garden to advising Girl Scouts on STEM to teaching individuals how they can best help people who are homeless.
“It all blends together so beautifully. We’re able to take seeds and replant them from vegetables we may have had. Then we teach kids about the garden and use that food to feed the homeless,” Mott says. “It’s just this whole cycle of how things intertwine so easily.”
3269 Roanoke Rd, Kansas City, MO
Scraps KC continues to hold workshops on Zoom and at its 3269 Roanoke Road location, with social distancing and masks.
For more information on their programs, visit scrapskc.org/eventsCATEGORIES: CULTURETags: Art, Blaine Shepherd, Brenda Mott, creative reuse, education, environmental awareness, Nora Utech, Scraps KC, volunteering