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“Dumpster Diving” For School Supplies and Food

PHOTO: School supplies. Photo credit: Mark Scheerer
PHOTO: School supplies. Photo credit: Mark Scheerer
August 28, 2012

HUNTINGTON, N.Y. - As much as forty percent of America's food supply is wasted on the way from production to consumption, according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council. For that reason, nonprofits have long looked to rescue food from dumpsters behind restaurants and supermarkets, and have encouraged businesses to redirect waste to help those in need.

Now, it seems, some "dumpster diving" is being done to provide Long Island schoolchildren with back-to-school supplies. A group called Long Island Food Not Bombs has been foraging behind chain stores for cast-off pens, pencils and notebooks to supplement its annual drive for donations from individuals and businesses. Members say they find treasures among discarded surplus and distribute them at their established food-share locations.

Another Long Island group, Family Service League, stops short of dumpsters in their annual school supplies drive, relying on corporate and individual donations. The League's vice president, Peggy Boyd, says the rising numbers of new poor are straining the groups' ability to aid families.

"Things that people discard as being 'junk' really have to be rethought."

Her group estimates it will distribute 2,000 backpacks of school supplies this month that would otherwise cost a family $70 to $80 each.

Lisa Jamison of Family Service League says she's grateful to the Bethpage Federal Credit Union, among others, for its support of the backpack program, but says resources are stretched to the point where "dumpster diving" by some groups is necessary.

"The sad reality for some of the families is, they're lucky if they have their older brother's notebook from last year or a broken pencil, so I guess they would be appreciative of anything that a dumpster could give them."

Suffolk and Nassau counties have the second- and third-highest foreclosure rates in the state, after Queens. Peggy Boyd says the growing numbers of new poor are stretching the safety net.

"The new poor, on top of the fact that we have so many families just every day trying to make ends meet that were always poor. And that's probably why we're seeing a lot of creative solutions like dumpster diving."

Family Services League distributes its back-to-school backpacks at its locations in Huntington, Bay Shore, East Yaphank and Riverhead.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY