Imagine collecting 1,500 pounds of plastic lids and new and used sneakers for an ALA project. That’s what the New Jersey Atlantic County American Legion Auxiliary Juniors did.
ALA Unit 158 member Barbara Mortillite is all about saving the environment. When trying to think of a project for Junior members, she came across a company, Eco Plastic Products of Delaware, which constructs benches out of recycled lids. The benches are UV protected, weather resistant, and maintenance free. She ran it by co-chair Jamie Morgan and the two agreed to begin the project.
“I thought it was a good way to get the Juniors involved with the planet and give back to our veterans,” Mortillite said. “It’s a win-win.”
If you collect the weight of the product you want to purchase, the company will give you a discount on the item, she added. For example, if the product is 200 pounds, you need to collect 200 pounds of plastic to get the discounted price on a bench or table.
The Juniors started collecting plastic lids, which ranged from soda bottle lids to those from sour cream containers, laundry detergent, and more.
Junior members gathered monthly to wash and sort caps by color. That was one difficulty about the project — they weren’t expecting the donated lids to be unwashed, so it took some time to clean all of them.
As they collected lids, Mortillite found the American Legion Auxiliary Foundation’s Veteran Projects Fund grant application.
“Seeing that this could be a great opportunity, we applied for the grant as members of Unit 158 and were thrilled when awarded a grant to pay for a large portion of the project,” she said. “This grant allowed us to expand our project from one park bench.”
That expansion from just one park bench included two wheelchair-accessible picnic benches for Vineland Veterans Home, two park benches for Veterans Haven South, and one wheelchair-accessible picnic bench for Meadowview Nursing Home’s veterans’ wing.
The unit covered the balance of the expenses by collecting sneakers. A company, gotsneakers.com, takes donated sneakers and repurposes them or strips them down for materials. Members also held yard sales and accepted monetary donations to help cover the cost.
Also assisting with this project through donations was New Jersey ALA Unit 28.
Mortillite said the project has been very rewarding “seeing the appreciation and knowing the [benches and tables] are getting used and they have a purpose.”
For other ALA Junior groups considering a similar project, Mortillite said go for it.
“It has no downsides to it,” she said. “I do recommend having people clean caps ahead of time. If not, clean as you go — don’t try to do all in one time.”
Once the project was completed, the unit delivered the plastic lids to Eco Plastic Products of Delaware where they were shredded, melted, and formed into parts used to make the recycled picnic tables and benches.
“We are grateful for the opportunity to dedicate something to our veterans and say ‘Thank you for your service and dedication to our great country,’” Mortillite said.