Swap Shop volunteer keeps Cape Elizabeth schools well supplied

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Beth Cary is dedicated to what she calls the next wave of the “shop local” movement: “drop local.”

Cary can be found volunteering at the Recycling Center’s Swap Shop most Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, her eyes constantly peeled for donations that may have appeared on the School Department newsletter’s list of classroom and office needs. 

Cary began volunteering at the Swap Shop – and said she realized what a “treasure trove” it is – five years ago, after carpal tunnel syndrome forced her to retire.

On days she volunteers – normally three a week – Cary said she’s constantly keeping her eyes peeled for donated items that could be used at Pond Cove Elementary School and Cape Elizabeth Middle School. 

She typically delivers her finds to the schools, where her children are students, twice a week.

“It’s an incredibly satisfying thing to do and fills a need,” she said. 

Pond Cove Elementary School Principal Jason Manjourides recognized Cary for her efforts during a School Board meeting May 8. 

“She really makes a unique contribution that really impacts many teachers and many students,” Manjourides said. “It’s very significant. … Every time the teachers come into the mailroom there’s new items.”

A typical delivery from Cary would consist of books for students and teachers, games, and tennis balls to fit on the bottom of chair legs to prevent them from scratching classroom floors. 

“I really look for anything that can be used in an educational capacity,” she said.

“The staff loves to be treated as well,” Cary added. “… Part of my love for doing this is supporting the staff … I was never cut out to be a teacher, but I love being a support system for what they do.”

She said one of her favorite finds was a “huge Rubbermaid container” of Legos, which she delivered to Pond Cove teacher Tom Charltray for his Allied Arts and Technology classes.

“To be able to bring in that large of a quantity (was great),” she said. “Legos are never not popular for the kids.”

Spending so many hours at the Swap Shop can also work to Cary’s advantage; on Monday, she was in the right place at the right time for a key find.

She had been brainstorming what to make during Friday’s Pond Cove Arts Day, for which she volunteered to make crafts with students, when a resident came in to donate three boxes of scrapbooking supplies. 

“It’s more than I can use … It’s hundreds of dollars worth of materials that is all recycled,” she said. “I’m feeling like I won the jackpot.”

Cary said she hopes her idea will be recycled in other communities, such as South Portland.

“To whatever extent communities are able to have this going on, it creates a great recycling function and less waste,” she said. “We have an incredibly generous community that is interested in recycling.”

Being the “go-between,” Cary said, is very satisfying.

“When someone doesn’t need it, someone else does,” she said. “… Knowing that it’s coming from one Cape kid and going back to several other Cape kids sort of closes the circle of what recycling can and should be.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

Volunteers Beth Cary, left, and Kathy Pinkham at the Cape Elizabeth Swap Shop on Wednesday morning, May 16. Cary matches School Department needs with what’s donated. She said her fellow volunteers contribute to the effort by alerting her to anything they find that they think the schools could use.