On Wednesday, Oct. 20, after the ISRI 2021 Fall Meetings, a group of members filed into a room at the Charleston Marriott to start a new project. Organized by ISRI’s South East Chapter and Women in Recycling (WIR) council in collaboration with the Charleston-based nonprofit East Cooper Community Outreach (ECCO), the members decorated and packed Thanksgiving meal bags for the local community.
Josephita Harry, vice president of sales for nonferrous metals and electronics scrap at Pan American Zinc, organized and led the project. The event was scheduled to run from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. and she expected 10-15 volunteers. But with 28 volunteers, the team was able to pack over 100 bags in under an hour.
Harry was motivated by the community service project held at the joint Southeast/Ohio Valley Chapter’s 2019 Fall Convention. That year, ISRI members served at Thistle Farms, a Nashville-based nonprofit that helps women survivors recover and heal from prostitution, trafficking, and addiction. The organization provides the women with a place to live and meaningful employment.
The 2019 event was an important opportunity for Harry and other ISRI members to give back to the community and to their host city. She was excited to attend the ISRI 2021 Fall Meetings and the Southeast Region Convention and Trade Show but felt a deep longing to serve once more. “We have so much to be grateful for and [the service project] was a way to engage the people we do business with and centered around women,” Harry says. “I had the idea that since we had a small timeslot for the WIR event, why not take the opportunity to combine it with a service project?”
Since time was limited, Harry found a project that members could take part in at their hotel. “I got in touch with [Southeast Region] President Barry Wolff, who is a Charleston local. He gave me a few recommendations and I also looked up locations, so there were multiple organizations to review,” she explains.
Harry felt picking ECCO was an easy choice. Founded in 1989 as an emergency relief effort after Hurricane Hugo’s devastation, ECCO supplies essential services to local neighbors facing financial hardship and gives them access to important community resources. The programs and services are designed to help clients find a path toward opportunity.
Kim Scott, senior trader at Kataman Metals, enjoyed serving in 2019 and again this year. “There are so many people who have struggled because of the pandemic, whether its financially, physically, emotionally, or mentally,” she says. “For us to get a meal to these people and let them know they’re not forgotten, that’s why we’re here.” WIR and Harry included personal touch. “Since the council is all about encouraging and inspiring women, the event was themed around gratitude, inspiration, and empowerment. ECCO let us write words and decorate the bags, and it made for a very engaging event,” Harry says.
Attendees got to work at tables decorating and drawing on the bags with positive words. Volunteers could add stickers with smiley faces or phrases like “Be Kind” or “Be Humble.” Pan American Zinc sponsored pins with the words “gratitude,” “inspired,” and “grateful” that volunteers could clip to each bag. “I’ve done events where it’s clear people are happy, but here it was like we were kids running around,” Harry recalls. “We had a spirit that I think we all lack sometimes, because in this industry work and the markets can be crazy, but in the midst of that we can be joyful. All it takes is one small effort.”
During the second part of the project, volunteers packed the decorated bags. The items included Thanksgiving dinner stables: canned green beans; canned corn; canned sweet potatoes or yams; stuffing mix; white rice; boxed instant potatoes; gravy packets; cranberry sauce; canned pie filling; and pie crust mix. “It only took a few hours and we had so much fun,” Scott recalls. “We laughed together and created memories that are going to last a long time.”
Volunteers who hadn’t taken part in an ISRI community service event before also had a meaningful experience. “It was great to see so many different people from different companies, and our ISRI meetings pulled together for a common cause and interact in a different way,” says Jimmy Garren, vice president of business development at Audubon Metals. “Josephita laid out the plan and was a good organizer, motivator, and cheerleader for the group.” Garren recalls how the group celebrated when they completed each step of the project. “We all organized and coordinated together who was going to do what and streamlined the process,” he says.
Lusynda Wright, commercial manager, south for PSC Metals, found the event a heartwarming experience she was glad to be part of. “It was wonderful to work with others in the recycling industry to bring food and encouragement to those who need it,” she says.
The event provided a good opportunity for members to connect in a space other than a meeting or networking event. “Everyone had the urge to give back; it was such a good and grateful spirit,” Harry says. Scott had a similar feeling watching everyone decorate, pack, and take part. “When you bring a group like that together outside of a work environment it really exposes the heart,” she says.
Community service projects are like recyclers’ bread and butter, in an industry that by its nature gives back to the environment and local communities. “It’s a really beautiful way for ISRI to leave a legacy,” Scott says. “It’s a great way to teach the next generation coming into the industry that we go into these communities and leave them better than we found them environmentally and give back to the community.”
Wright shares similar sentiments. “Recycling and community go hand-in-hand to create a better world,” she notes. “It’s important for every individual to give back to the community. Giving back through service projects like this can give recyclers a louder voice and show others what we do and who we are.”
Even giving a small amount of time can be effective. “Giving back however you can is important,” Garren says. “Whether it’s through your company, as an individual, or events like this one. Share what you can because everyone has something to share whether it’s time, money, or an item. I think it’s part of what it means to be a recycler. It’s part of our mentality.”
Harry recommends ISRI members reach out to chapter leaders to plan and organize similar community service projects. Getting buy-in and support from leadership can be crucial to completing a successful event. Harry found WIR and Southeast Region leadership to be very supportive of the project. “[Community service projects] could be part of any in-person event, and it doesn’t take much time. I think this was a new level of engaging with people you do business with, and I’d like to see more of these events,” she says.
Scott believes ISRI chapters and regions can incorporate a community service project into their annual conventions. “I think it’s something we can certainly build upon [in] each of the chapters. We can pull a good group of people in the industry together to find out the best way to give back at each of the different conventions,” she says.
ECCO is collecting $25 gift cards redeemable at Publix or Harris Teeter supermarkets to cover the cost of Thanksgiving turkeys for needy Charleston-area families. If you’re interested in contributing, you can donate here. Use “ISRIWIR” in the added comments so donations can be tracked.
Photos courtesy of ISRI.