Mike Cohen, president of Denver, Colo.-based Iron and Metals, had a lot to look forward to in August 2022. Not only was he planning to attend his first National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) Legislative Summit in Denver, but he was also in charge of organizing ISRI’s community service project held the same week.
“I felt privileged being asked to take care of the project because I got to select an organization that really helps people in Colorado, in our local communities; it was truly rewarding,” Cohen says.
He selected Food Bank of the Rockies, the largest hunger-relief organization in the Rocky Mountain region. The organization provides food and necessities to people in need through signature programs and by working with hundreds of Hunger Relief Partners to serve communities across Colorado and Wyoming.
Cohen knew about Food Bank of the Rockies because his uncle, a co-owner of Iron and Metals, had experience partnering with the organization. “I got in touch with the food bank’s volunteer coordinator, and we worked together to plan out the project,” Cohen says.
On Aug. 1, a group of 12 ISRI volunteers, limited in size due to space restrictions, carpooled to the food bank’s warehouse for an afternoon of work the day before the official start of events for the NCSL Summit. Prior to lifting or sorting a single item, the group watched an instructional video on what they should expect as well as rules and regulations.
Holding the event before the summit meant ISRI members got an opportunity to work together as a team before heading into a week of tag-teaming with fellow members and talking with legislators and their staff about the ins and outs of the recycling industry.
“[Food Bank of the Rockies] was the afternoon before the opening [NCSL] reception so [the project] kind of served as an icebreaker for us,” Cohen recalls. “We had briefly met while setting up the booth for NCSL but had not really gotten to know each other. Going to this event, we carpooled with each other and got to chat, and at the warehouse we were side by side, elbow to elbow, working in a cooperative function.”
Over the course of four hours, ISRI volunteers worked in the food bank’s reclamation area where food and other items are processed from a combination of food drives and grocery rescues. Volunteers help inspect, clean, sort, and box these items before they are distributed to clients through the food bank’s member agencies such as pantries or soup kitchens.
“It was a great experience,” says Sam Shine, director of sales at Utility Recyclers International. “It was quite a bit of work but in a good way. I wasn’t sure what it would entail because it was my first time attending. We spent our shift putting boxes on pallets, and sorting through a lot of different materials and putting them in to different boxes for donations.”
Though Food Bank of the Rockies couldn’t say if ISRI volunteers had broken any records that day, the volunteers sorted 25 pallets weighing more than 14,240 pounds and finished packing 21 gaylord bins that went out the door that day providing 11,512 meals to those in need. Danielle Waterfield, ISRI’s chief policy officer, recalls that volunteers were told the numbers were extremely high. “It was clear that ISRI members did a lot of great work that day boxing food and goods for distribution to those in need,” she says.
ISRI volunteers were joined by the food bank’s regular volunteers who were happy to lend a hand or answer questions. “Working alongside those volunteers was one of the things I enjoyed most about that day,” Cohen says. “Many of them seemed to be retirees who came to volunteer for the food bank on a regular basis. They were great guides and helped us sort things in the right places. We had fun and worked hard throughout the shift.”
Christine Gneiding, trader at Intrametco, also found the volunteer project both exhausting and deeply rewarding. “It’s always good to be able to give back,” she says. “I think it should be a component at every NCSL Summit that we spend a day participating in a service project.”
Cohen is glad that service projects have become a component of ISRI’s participation at NCSL. “There’s a strong sense of wanting to give back but sometimes life gets busy,” he says. “So, setting up a community project through an organization like ISRI and creating a time block is important. It’s a solid block of time for us to give back to the community, which is something we all want to do anyway. Having it be a part of NCSL is significant.”
Gneiding intends to work with ISRI and Indiana Chapter leadership to coordinate a service project during NCSL’s upcoming Legislative Summit Aug. 14-16, 2023, in Indianapolis. “We’re planning to set up a community project to coincide for next year’s summit,” she says. “It’s important to give back and engage with the local community. Recyclers are always looking for ways to partner with their communities; this is an opportunity to do just that.”
Photos Courtesy of ISRI.