My Volunteer Journal: Episode 53 – Trash for Teaching

t4tDo not confuse the title as I have when telling people about this adventure. It’s not trash for teachers or teaching trash or trashy teachers. I’m pretty sure that last one is a movie of sorts. No. Trash for Teaching or T4T is a non-profit, which collects clean and safe cast off materials from the manufacturing process and then repurposes them as art supplies and teaching tools. As their slogan says, “Minimizing Waste. Maximizing education.”

I thought the idea of using unwanted manufacturing items as kindergarten art supplies sounded dangerous, dirty, and reminded me of propaganda videos showing communist children playing on rusty bed springs. Yes, I thought that… until I turned up to help T4T at an Earth Day fair in Redondo Beach, CA. Inside their Trash for Teaching van aka the Treasure Truck (which they drive to schools, birthday parties, libraries, fairs, etc.) is a wealth of industrial debris and let me just say – it’s really really cool stuff. Stuff that can only be described as stuff - not trash. Brightly colored fabric swatches from American Apparel, cardboard tubes the size of flower pots, hundreds of yards of shimmer papers, plastic pieces, cardboard cutouts, and even tiny springs (not rusty). Fun stuff. Stuff I wanted to play with right then.

No time for play though. We had to set up a giant loom made of paper scraps on which we would weave a fish made of torn movie posters. The purpose of the loom was to attract and hopefully trap small children. Small children with parents - they generally come as a package deal. Kathy, the founder of T4T, was trying to get the word out to these parental units and other passing adults about the Trash for Teaching mission. As she said, “We’re hurting right now.” Preach on sister. Through my volunteer wanderings these past two years I’ve definitely noticed that Kathy and her group are not alone in their pains. Call it a recession or depression, money trouble means those at the bottom – non-profits – are hit hard. Compounding the problem in T4T’s home state of California art programs in public education had funding slashed in 2008.

But Trash for Teaching faces one more unique problem as they try to spread the word to reuse in a world of disposable. Namely, that they have the word “trash” in their title. People like me assume that children should not be playing with trash. Yet sitting in their van on Saturday morning it was all I could do not to stack the cast off tubes and cones into a castle.

So if you are a manufacturer – Trash for Teaching will accept your clean and safe cast offs go to the website for more info.

If you’re a parent hire the Treasure Truck for a birthday party. If you’re a teacher, librarian, principal, or administrator call 323-262-3400 for a day of arts education care of T4T.