Earth Day celebrations have been held for more than 25 years in St. Louis, and Susan Blandford, executive director of St. Louis Teachers’ Recycle Centers, has been there for almost every one of them.
During Sunday’s annual festival, she sat contentedly on the back bumper of her organization’s “Van-GO” and welcomed dozens of young children and their parents to step inside the van to pick a free storybook from hundreds of donated, lightly-used childrens books.
“When I come here I feel like I’m back with family,” Blandford, 65, said of the festival unfolding under a cloudless sky amid balmy temperatures in Forest Park.
The Teachers’ Recycle Centers was one of more than 250 sponsors and organizations to provide booths, food and activities at the festival, which draws attention to eco-friendly ideas, services and programs.
Last year, organizers hosted 50,000 people at the event held near the Muny Grounds. By noon Sunday it was hard to find a parking spot within a mile of the event despite various programs encouraging taking bicycles, shuttle vans and public transportation to the event.
Blandford says she wanted parents and children to learn that re-using existing items is not only eco-friendly, but creative and empowering.
As she sees it, when you take long-discarded things like books, half spools of ribbon, partially used sticker books, unused file folders and even “old-fashioned” three ring binders and then put them in the creative hands of children, you’ve given a boost to children’s minds and the planet.
On Sunday, Blandford and her staff set up a crafting area and encouraged children to make journal covers from discarded file folders, donated binders, stickers and markers. They filled the binders with lined paper from half-spent spiral notebooks.
Jacob Koop, 5, chose to make a journal celebrating Halloween with mummy and pumpkin stickers and a stick figure.
“I tried to make it look like a scary monster,” he said of his drawing.
For more than two decades the Teachers’ Recycle Centers have been collecting and redistributing donated craft items and unwanted office supplies that would have otherwise ended up in landfills. Their goal is to make them available to teachers and other groups so children can create new things out of the old and build their creativity. The price is right, says Blandford. Teachers can buy paper and other supplies at their recycle centers by the pound for just $1.
The organization has come a long way from Blandford’s first Earth Day booth some 24 years ago. That’s when a donor showed up with hundreds of pounds of outdated wallpaper sample books that Blandford managed to lug home. Now, the group has two recycle centers, in Chesterfield Mall and on Lemay Ferry Road, that welcome donations and are open to teachers and the public seeking supplies.
But the heart of the organization on Sunday was clearly in Forest Park. Blandford said she just wants to bring back the easy joy of play and creativity in children. As the children finished their journals, volunteers picked up every tiny scrap of paper left and stored them in bags. The scraps would either be reused or recycled.