Nonprofit Turns Offices’ Trash into Treasure
- Category: Hands On
- Published on March 14, 2017
- Written by Cynthia Miller
The memory of watching little-used office furniture drop from third-story windows of a corporate building in downtown Los Angeles more than a dozen years ago still makes Rose Tourjé cringe. The crashing noise, she said, drew her to the site three blocks away from where she had been taking a lunch break.
She returned to the site the next day. “I stayed in my car at the side of the building, watching the bins being filled with bits of what was furniture just moments before,” said Tourjé, who now lives in Santa Fe. “… A series of dump trucks lined the street, so I decided to follow one. It went to a nearby transfer station.”
What she discovered there was a part of a massive environmental and economical problem that had long been overlooked: millions of tons of surplus office furniture and equipment filling up landfills across the nation. Tourjé said she “heard a call to action.” She was so moved to find a solution that she ended her career in commercial interior design and launched an organization to help keep corporations’ discarded, usable goods out of the waste stream.
Her nonprofit, the ANEW Foundation, opened its doors on Earth Day 2005. At the time, it was at the forefront of what is now a growing corporate stewardship movement.
Each year, ANEW diverts more than 3 million pounds of surplus goods to nonprofits, schools and communities that need them, said Vice President Glenn Sparks, who also has relocated to Santa Fe from L.A. to help operate a satellite office.
“ANEW has expanded here for meeting the needs of New Mexico,” Tourjé said.
Recently, the nonprofit completed a project in Albuquerque for a large medical center, DaVita Inc., that was moving to a new facility.
“We were able to steward a good amount of surplus medical equipment — patient beds, carts, IV poles, cribs, shelving and storage — to a new clinic at the San Felipe Pueblo,” Sparks said. Among about a dozen other local recipients were La Familia Medical Center, Kitchen Angels, Habitat for Humanity and New Mexico Medical, a small family practice and urgent care firm that serves the communities of Edgewood, Cedar Crest and Moriarty.
“For us, it’s a big deal,” James Marc Beverly, chief operating officer of New Mexico Medical, said in a short video Sparks was creating to document the stewardship project. The desks, filing cabinets and medical supplies his clinics received will allow the small firm to put more money into patient services at its busy clinics in underserved communities, Beverly said. “This is probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing for us.”
In December, ANEW sent five truckloads from Los Angeles to Ohkay Owingeh, supplying more than 100 pueblo families and about a dozen agencies and nonprofits with chairs, tables, refrigerators, leather couches, bookshelves and other items. Among the families who benefited were nine who had lost many of their belongings during heavy flooding in August at a public housing complex.
Several Santa Fe nonprofits — Warehouse 21, the Commonweal Conservancy and the Santa Fe Youth Symphony Association — also received furniture and appliances from the truckloads, which had been donated by Sony Corp. and two large L.A. law firms.
“As people were coming, they were just so happy,” said Tomasita Duran, executive director of the Ohkay Owingeh Housing Authority. “I said, ‘Take what you need. It’s all there for you.’ ”
Duran recalled the storm that damaged several units of a housing authority complex. “The rain was pounding,” she said, “and then it turned to hail.” Two arroyos that meet at the complex began to overflow, she said, and the rising water seeped into apartments.
The apartments were repaired, Duran said, but, “A lot of the families, unfortunately, didn’t have rental insurance.”
When she learned about ANEW a few months later, she said, “We were able to collaborate immediately.
“It was almost as if we knew what they needed, and we filled it,” Tourjé said, speaking of not just the Ohkay Owingeh people but also the Boys & Girls Club on the pueblo, the Community Day School and a Head Start program furnished with the shipment. “It was perfect timing,” she said. “… It just came together.”
“We typically don’t transport our surplus across state lines,” Tourjé said, “but in this case, it’s teaching us that we can.”
In its effort to keep a small carbon footprint, ANEW has tried to match up corporate donors and recipients within 25 miles of each other. But that left out many rural communities in need — including the pueblos and other American Indian tribes in New Mexico the organization was hoping to reach. While experimenting with the Ohkay Owingeh project, ANEW worked with city of Santa Fe’s Environmental Services Division to track its emissions while hauling goods the 900 miles from L.A. to the pueblo.
After calculating emissions of the Ohkay Owingeh project, ANEW determined that it was more environmentally friendly to carry a shipment hundreds of miles and serve scores in “one fell swoop,” Tourjé said, than to send each family out to buy their own furniture and supplies. “We’re finding out that we can lower and neutralize the emissions.”
The project also served as an introduction of ANEW to other pueblos in the region, Sparks said.
“This doesn’t end with these five trailers,” Tourjé said. “That was just the start.”