Turning Waste into Wonder

Anyone who has watched a toddler enjoy a gift box more than the present therein knows that children delight in everyday objects. Using their imaginations, children can transform a plastic lid into a flying saucer. To foster this inherent creativity, Jana Haskins, executive director of the newly formed nonprofit organization Resource Depot Inc., West Palm Beach, Fla., is transforming industrial trash into art supplies.

With funding and in-kind donations from the Solid Waste Authority of Palm Beach County, Fla., as well as support from private companies and children-centered community organizations, Resource Depot has created what Haskins likes to call a “boutique,” where teachers and other childcare providers can shop for uncommon art supplies.

“Yesterday, we picked up a van load of mat board and framing materials from a local gallery,” Haskins says. “And Reilly Foam Corp., [West Palm Beach, Fla.,] gave us car wash sponges in the shape of beetle bugs.”

These are items that otherwise would end up in a landfill, says Haskins, who has worked in the recycling field for many years.

Although Resource Depot has not yet officially opened its doors, the organization's 3,000-square-foot space already is overflowing with fabric scraps, cardboard tubes, shaving cream lids and pieces of jewelry boxes. Teachers who attended the Resource Depot's preliminary opening were delighted by the selection, according to West Palm Beach-based Classroom Teachers Association President Shelly Vana.

And, the Resource Depot will save teachers money, Haskins says. “We surveyed people who attended our [preliminary opening] and found that, on average, teachers spend at least $500 of their own money per year on art supplies for their students.”

The supplies at Resource Depot are free to all community members who work with children — as is advice about how to use the industrial objects as creative classroom tools. “We're not just about collecting materials and keeping them out of the landfill,” Haskins says. “We believe very strongly in training and education.”

To this end, Resource Depot has hired early childhood education expert Walter Drew to develop a curriculum that will accompany the supplies. Drew, who founded the nation's first reusable resource center in Boston nearly 30 years ago, was the inspiration for Resource Depot, Haskins says.

Resource Depot will open with regular hours in time for the 2001-2002 school year-rush. Until then, if residents have questions about the organization, they can call Haskins. If she is away from the phone, her machine will answer, “Thank you for calling Resource Depot, where we're turning waste into wonder.”