A Scrap Exchange Story

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

I’m writing this story for my friend Ann, because work is hard right now, our Yelp reviews of our life (a new feature of my life I started last year when I was sick and had to go into work to fix Ann’s computer — “This place sucks! They make you come in to work when you’re sick as a dog! Who wants to work at a place like that?”) all start with “This place sucks!”

So this is a story that has everything I love about The Scrap Exchange in it. To make me remember that The Scrap Exchange is unique and beloved Durham institution, and is also a magical place.

Or at least it used to be. And maybe it sometimes still is.

Here is the story.

In June 2016 I signed up to work at an event in Fairfax, Virginia, to which we were hired to bring our Events by the Truckload program. Every now and then we get hired to do an event in the DC area, and I usually work those, partly because I can sometimes catch up with friends while I’m up there but also because I know that the roads can be very confusing and the traffic can be very terrible and you might make one wrong turn and be stuck for two hours trying to get back to where you were supposed to go. It seems better to have me drive because I am (a) less likely to make a wrong turn in the first place and (b) more likely to be able to recover from it if I do.

This particular event had some evening hours on Friday and we were supposed to get there before 5 p.m. but I know enough about DC traffic to know that you should not aim for 5 p.m. because you will be playing Friday afternoon Beltway traffic roulette and who knows when you will actually get there. You should try to get there by 3 p.m., which should get you there before the mayhem. So that was the plan but I got a bit off schedule in the morning. We were still in the right range but running a bit behind. But we needed to keep it moving.

So we have all of our stuff together and Chellie, the outreach manager, walks to the rented box truck with me, pulls up the rear door and shows me what we have in the truck for the weekend. I quickly look through it to make sure nothing is missing. Barrels of stuff, bags of extra stuff, scissors, tape, postcards, flyers. Looks good.

I load in my cooler, Dana and I settle ourselves into our respective seats, and we drive off to our big adventure.

I drive up the hill to go out the side parking lot driveway, out on to Chapel Hill Road, take a right on Morehead, left on Duke Street. We are stopped at a red light at Duke Street and Chapel Hill Street, by the main police station, about two miles from The Scrap Exchange, and the car next to us rolls down his window and points and says, “Hey, do you know that your back door is open?”

And I’m like Oh, No. We didn’t close the door after we looked to make sure we had everything.

So I pull over and look in back and I’m like yup, stuff fell out. It’s one of the bins with tape, which we need for the weekend, and also my cooler, and probably some other stuff too. We need to go back.

So we retrace our route and I’m expecting to see a trail of detritus strewn along the roads but I don’t see anything at all until we get to the driveway to the parking lot and then I see Scrap Exchange postcards blowing all over the place. I’m like okay well here’s where it happened. But I don’t see bins or my cooler or anything other than the postcards.

I drive down to the parking lot, don’t see anything there. Drive back up, pull over and start picking up postcards and looking for where the bins could have fallen. I can’t figure out what happened, where is our stuff? Obviously this is where the stuff fell out because there are postcards everywhere but there’s nothing else here. What is going on?

As I’m standing there looking perplexed, two guys in a car drive up and say, “We took your stuff back down to the store, we saw it come out of the truck and we picked it up for you and took it inside.”

And I’m like Oh! Okay, thanks!

So we drive down and I walk inside, the outreach manager and our greeter staff person are just finishing up repacking the bins and putting everything back together. They are laughing — Oops! Forgot to close the back door!

Paola says, “That was one of our community service volunteers who brought the bin in, he lives in the neighborhood.” She recognized him from volunteering.

So now I’m now laughing too. This is so Scrap Exchange. Our little neighborhood of helpers. Of course one of our neighbors would see this happen and of course he would know The Scrap Exchange from volunteering and of course he would take the time to pick the stuff up for us and bring it back.

But I’m starting to really worry about timing, we need to get on the road. But I feel bad about all of the postcards blowing all over the street so I tell Chellie and Paola to tell Robert to go clean up the postcards. (Robert is a neighborhood friend who picks up trash and helps us keep our parking lot clean.) They say they’ll have someone take care of it.

So we load the stuff back into the truck, we CLOSE THE ROLL UP DOOR, and drive off.

The rest of the weekend more or less unfolds as planned. We make it to Fairfax, we do the event, people make fun stuff, Sunday night we drive back to Durham. Monday I take the day off to recover.

On Tuesday, I’m in our weekly senior staff meeting and I notice that Ann has a necklace I haven’t seen before. She makes jewelry from all kinds of things you might not think of as jewelry-making material — bottlecaps, rusted metal, etc. She lives on a busy road with a lot of automobile accidents and for a while she had a car crash series of jewelry, she would pull stuff out of the side of the road and turn it into a necklace or earrings. Tail lights, reflectors, pieces of bumper. Stuff like that.

So I see her necklace and I tell her I like it. She reaches up and puts her hand across it like a QVC commercial and says, “Oh, thanks. It made it from stuff I pulled out of the street when I was picking up the postcards that fell out of the back of the truck.”

And I’m like okay now this truly a classic Scrap story:

—Stuff falls out of truck.
—Someone who knows us sees it fall out, picks it up, and brings it back to the store.
—Someone tells me the door is open before I get on the highway and drive off into oblivion.
—The guy who brought the stuff back to the store sees me looking for it and tells me where my stuff is.
—Ann cleans up the street and makes a necklace out of the trash she picks up.

The end.

All that, as my friend Ann likes to say.

All that.

I’m working at The Scrap Exchange these days, and studying for CPA exams (which I am taking for somewhat obscure reasons, and which I am hoping very much will be over soon) and that is pretty much all I’m doing. And it’s mostly good, I get to ride my bike to work and I get to wear whatever I want and every day is different. Which seems like about all I can hope for at this point in my life.

We got some funding from Duke through their Doing Good in the Neighborhood program (which we used to rent kudzu-eating goats to clear out some land so we can use it as a garden) and through that hooked up with the DukeEngage program, which has a program that places Duke undergraduates at nonprofits in Durham, North Carolina for six weeks and then moves them to internships in Durham, England for the second half of the summer.

Our intern is really great, I’m not sure what she expected from her summer internship but she has been game for everything we’ve thrown at her. Including goats.

She doesn’t have a car, and we’re pretty close to campus, but it’s a hilly walk and it’s hot here in the summer. She tried Uber but said the economics of Uber to and from work every day are not great. Ann had a bike in her office that came from one of our neighborhood guys who’s a bike guy, he’s always buying bikes and fixing them up and trying to sell them to us. Every now and then Ann will buy one.

So she gave the bike to Anahita to use, and we got her a helmet, and I tried to get the seat raised up so the bike would fit a little better. And that’s how she’s getting to and from work, on one of Robert’s bikes.

Last week, she asked me, “Where can I get denim?”

She said she wanted to make a denim skirt, she liked them and wanted one, but there was something she didn’t like about the ones in the stores. (I don’t remember what she didn’t like about them, but it was something fairly simple.) She said she was going to come to community sewing to see if she could make a denim skirt that she liked.

I suggested a thrift store (or our Pop Up Thrift backstock) and started to tell her where the nearest thrift store is but then remembered that she doesn’t have a car. It’s not that far, but it’s not a great bike ride. Robert (the bike guy) had given Ann a bag of jeans a few weeks ago (it’s the Robert economy, he’s always bringing us random stuff, jeans or cocktail sauce or whatever he ends up with that he thinks might have some value that he can trade for something else) and I had taken one pair that I thought might fit but then I never tried them on. They were sitting on the floor next to my chair. I reached down and picked them up and handed them to her. I said, “Here’s a pair of jeans, you can use these.”

Anahita said, “This place is amazing! Anything you ask for, here it is.”

True that.

On Friday I was talking to her about her schedule, how long is she in England and when does she start school again and does she have time for anything in between. She said she has three weeks after the England internship and she’s going back to stay with her parents. She said, “Back to where it all started.” But then she corrected herself and said that she had to go somewhere she’s never been before, because her parents just moved from Dubai to Qatar. So she’s going to see them in Qatar.

So we talked about moving around and being from different places. She said in Dubai, everyone is from somewhere else so it’s easy, when someone says asks where you’re from they mean where is your family from. Her parents are from India, and she says when she has to give a “permanent” address, she uses her grandfather’s address in India, but if she has to say how long she’s lived at her permanent address, she has to write “zero years.” She said sometimes it’s hard to fill out applications, they can be very confusing.

I told her that I had a similar situation when I left for college (not, however, involving Dubai) — my father was transferred for work from the Buffalo office of his firm to the Kansas City office. So my address on school things was Lake Quivira, Kansas, but I had never been there. People would ask me if I knew this person or that person from Kansas City, and I was like no, I’ve never actually been to Kansas. And they’re like but doesn’t this say you’re from Kansas? So that was complicated for a little while.

And I told her that during my junior year, my parents moved back to Western New York, to the same town we’d been living in before (Orchard Park), in a house on the same street (and built by the same builder — it was like a weird parallel universe experience, all these things that were almost but not quite the same as the house I had grown up in).

And then I tried to tell her about how after my parents moved back, and my brother was visiting after graduating from college, he started getting phone calls at our old phone number, and after the third or fourth call for Dan Currie, the owner of the phone number pulled out the local Boy Scout produced phone book, Who’s Who in Orchard Park, and looked up the number for Currie so they could give my brother’s new number to all of the people calling him at his old number.

And it did not occur to me when I started telling this anecdote how hopelessly confusing it would be for a 20 year-old from Dubai.

I kept seeing this blank quizzical look on her face so I had to try to backtrack through it to explain things, like the concept of the PHONE BOOK.

See there was this book that everyone had that had phone numbers in it, and if you wanted to call someone, you would look up their name, the book was in alphabetical order, so for Currie, you’d go to the Cs then work your way to the Cu’s and look through until you got to Currie and there would be the number.

She was like “Wow … a book? With names … and … numbers?? That’s so … interesting.”

I’m not sure if she even believed me.

Also later I realized that the concept of a phone number that goes with a house, not a person, might not have made sense to her either. Not sure what the landline situation is in Dubai.

After that conversation finished we were talking about her plans for the weekend, she was heading to Asheville with some friends in the program and I asked if she was going to be there for the holiday. She said she was. And then she said, “What is Fourth of July? What is this holiday?”

So I started to explain about the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War, which of course I couldn’t remember any of the details properly and I recited what I meant to be the Declaration of Independence but by the time I got to the end I realized that it was the preamble to the Constitution, which I only know because of Schoolhouse Rock. So then I had to explain Schoolhouse Rock to her (and Saturday cartoons — see there were only three channels, and cartoons were only on Saturdays, just one day a week, that was the only time you could watch them…). And then we went to YouTube and watched the Declaration of Independence Schoolhouse Rock video.

And then she left for the weekend.

She is learning so much at her internship. I hope she appreciates it.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

This post is for the NC locals (Durham, Raleigh, Chapel Hill and environs). Everyone else can just be jealous.

The Scrap Exchange is hosting a Swap-O-Rama Rama community clothing swap on Saturday, January 31 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Full details on what a Scrap Exchange Swap-O-Rama looks like can be found in a blog post I wrote for the Scrap Exchange in 2009.

I also wrote about it here, for Story Number Three in my ten days of Scrap Stories for my 2011 fundraiser.

Best event ever! Come out if you can.

Happy Mother’s Day

Sunday, May 12, 2013


Scrap Flower

I worked at a Scrap Exchange event a couple of weeks ago and little girl wanted to make a flower. I showed her a few different ways to make different kinds of flowers, and then I started working on this one.

I like it, and I brought it home with me (and even salvaged it from the van after I left it there when we got back.)

It has a little bit of a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree element to it—I can’t decide if it’s simply sad and pathetic, or if the reason I like it is because it is somewhat sad and pathetic. And this is not a good picture of it either. (I’m having trouble with pictures lately because the place I usually take my pictures is messy messy while I deal with things in other rooms, so I’m taking pictures that aren’t that good and just deciding that they are good enough. Hopefully this problem will resolve itself soon and I’ll eventually be able to put up a picture I actually like.) It actually looks a little better in real life.

But I thought I’d put the flower up for Mother’s Day. I hope all you mothers out there had a good day. And I hope that some of you at least got real flowers instead of a not-very-good picture of Charlie Brown Christmas tree flower. Since it seems like that’s the best I can do at the moment.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sunday, 4/29, noon to 4pm

I think some people commented after the Swap story in September that they wished they had known about it.

A little bit short notice on this, but I do want to let you know that The Scrap Exchange is hosting a Swap-O-Rama-Rama on Sunday, April 29 as part of Durham Art Walk weekend.

The Swap is from noon to four at The Scrap Exchange, 923 Franklin Street, Durham NC 27701. You can bring a bag of clothing that you’d like to get rid of, or if you don’t have anything you want to part with and just want to get more, that’s fine too. We have yet to have a shortage of clothing at one of these things.

Here’s the Swap story I wrote during the fundraiser in the fall, and here’s a post I wrote on the Scrap blog describing the Swap we had in Raleigh, if you’d like more info on the Scrap Swap-O-Rama phenomenon. (Or for more info on the national model Swap-O-Rama-Rama, you can visit the Swap-O-Rama-Rama site: www.swaporamarama.org.)

Suggested donation of $10 for the general public and $5 for Friends Club members. (And really, that’s the best bargain on the planet. Pretty much my entire wardrobe has come from the last few years of Swaps.)

If you do come, please note to be careful where you park. Scientific Properties started towing cars on Friday. If you park in the gravel lot at the end of Belt Street, with the metal PARK sculpture, you’ll be fine, that parking lot belongs to the owner of the building we’re in.

If you park in the central, paved lot, which is shared between the two building owners, be sure to park in a spot marked “Reserved for CC&W.” Do NOT park in a blank space or a space with a red R. Those belong to Scientific Properties and they will tow you away and you will have to pay $240 to get your car back. Boo.

Scrap Story #10: Money

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Last one!

I’m sure you’ll miss me when I’m gone.

Given that this is a fundraiser, and I am the Treasurer for The Scrap Exchange, I decided to write this last story about money.

The Scrap Exchange is on a calendar year fiscal year. The way our budget process works is that Ann and I get together in the fall, late October or early November, and she tells me what she wants. Generally it’s more of everything, but mostly more staff so we can do more work and higher wages so people can work without feeling like they’re indentured servants.

I lowball what we’re likely to bring in and give Ann everything she asks for. Then I see how far off those are. Usually it’s about $40,000. (Out of a budget that has gone from $180,000 in 2005 to over $300,000 last year.)

We get together and talk about it and she says I think we’ll do more outreach than that and I think we’ll get another grant somewhere and I think the store will do better. We up the income. Then I bring expenses down by taking out some of the wish list items and adjusting some of the cushion I’d put in for utilities and gas for the vans and things like that.

Usually we get the gap down to ten or fifteen thousand dollars. And Ann doesn’t want to take anything else out, she says leave it like that, we’ll find the money.

I call that Jesus Money — the money we’ll get when Jesus walks in the door and gives us ten thousand dollars.

In 2005, I was not yet on the board of The Scrap Exchange and was mightily resisting all entreaties to join. I said I liked being involved at the level I was involved at, working and giving support but staying out of everything else. (It had a pretty complicated setup in those days; it wasn’t something I wanted to be in the middle of.)

It was November. Things were not so great with finances, they were way under budget for the year. I was talking to Ann about it. I said well budgets are funny, sometimes things seem worse than they are. I’ll take a look.

I looked. It was bad.

Ann’s friend Erica had convinced her millionaire boyfriend to donate his almost-new pickup truck to The Scrap Exchange instead of trading it in when he bought a new vehicle. Ann had planned on selling it, but had had it for a while and had been having trouble getting what she thought it was worth; there had been a couple of offers but they were low and the sales process had lost steam.

After I looked at the numbers, I told Ann she had to sell the truck — maybe she wasn’t going to get top dollar for it but she had to so something.

A week or two later, she sold the truck for $12,000.

They came out ahead for the year.

A couple of years later — when I actually was the Treasurer and was responsible for the numbers, not just someone looking at them to see what I thought — we were coming up to the end of the year and it was touch and go, didn’t look like we were going to make budget for the year. We got a call in mid-December from a foundation run by the family of one of our good friends and former volunteers. They wanted our address, they were sending us a check for $10,000.

We came out ahead for the year.

Jesus money.

The tracking portion of the fundraiser ended yesterday. We made around $22,000, which is not $60,000 but is $22,000 more than we had last month. This is some of our Jesus money for this year.

(And just to put things into perspective, that’s four or five times more than we normally make from individual donors in a year. We’re usually about ninety per cent self-sustaining through mission-driven earned income and fee-for-service programming. The other ten per cent is generally grants we get for specific projects or for general operating support. Income from individual donations is usually budgeted at around five thousand dollars.)

Also we have some procrastinators who never managed to send out their appeals and who say they’re going to do them now, so hopefully that number will edge up a little bit in coming weeks. As I said on the website and in the message I sent out to the Scrap Exchange mailing list, the tracking portion of the fundraiser is over, but the need for support is ongoing.

We will continue to work hard and do what we can and adjust what we have to in order to get through this. I didn’t see any way we could be self-sustaining this year with such a large increase in expenses in such a short time frame, but we know we want to get back to that as soon as possible. And hopefully we’ll figure out a way to pay for some upfit to our new space, heating and better electricity and a bunch of other things we need. But we’ll do what we’ve always done, work with what we’ve got and do the best we can. We’re a pretty resourceful organization.

Ann enjoys telling people that the organization’s treasurer was profiled in People magazine for eating for a dollar a day. She says who else would you want managing your money than someone who can eat for a dollar a day?

She has a point.

Thank you to everyone who made donations and replied with comments about the stories and sent me your good wishes. It was nice to know that people were reading and enjoying them.

And the next time you’re in Durham, stop by The Scrap Exchange. I promise it will be worth the trip.

Scrap Story #9: Trophies

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

This was going to be a story about trophies, but then I found out that the Scrap Exchange website was showing a weird “Your Website” default page instead of the site, so it almost turned into a story about how I tracked down the person who is supposedly providing web hosting for us and throttled him. But then he fixed it so I did not have to track him down and throttle him and now it’s a story about trophies again.

Trophies are one of those things that you get a lot of when you’re young, and some of them are meaningful when you get them and some of them aren’t, but generally they’re not something you need to have in your life forever. Especially the eighth place ones, no one really needs a shelf full of those.

And they’re one of those things that you don’t really know what to do with once you’re done having them on your shelf. Though my friend Molly told me about a neighbor of hers who used them as yard art, she buried the bottom part so just the shiny figures were sticking out. Molly said it looked pretty great with the sunlight glinting off them.

So burying them in your garden is definitely an option, but if you live in Durham, you can also bring them to The Scrap Exchange.

And then what happens to them?

Well, if they’re lucky, they might be picked to star in a movie. (Phoebe and Daniel are making a film involving a variety of Scrap materials, and Daniel’s Scrapamals, and a trophy. I would love to describe it in more detail but I haven’t actually seen it yet.)

Or they might get remade into a fabulous set of new trophies, like the ones the staff made to give to winners of the Iron Crafter competition.

Iron Crafter Trophies

(Iron Crafter is the Scrap Exchange version of Iron Chef, where contestants are challenged to make something in a set time period using specific materials, including one “secret ingredient.” We held the first one at the holiday party in December 2009 and did it again at last year’s holiday party. It was fascinating, and wildly popular.)

Shortly after the first Iron Crafter competition I was out with some folks from another organization  I work with that does nonprofit technology work (PIN, Inc./RTPnet/NCTech4Good). We were getting ready for a conference in the spring, and wanted to honor the founder of the organization, Judy Hallman. It was the organization’s 20th anniversary and they were talking about what they could do for her that would be special.

I said, “Hey, we could give her a trophy from The Scrap Exchange!” I was thinking of the fabulous Iron Crafter trophies.

They were like Zoe and Beth’s friend Megan when I said we were going to make palm trees — they were like uh, okay, maybe we could do that. But we should do something else too, something real.

I said okay whatever.

I’m talking to Ann later, I said we were trying to figure out what to do to honor someone for twenty years of amazing work, I suggested making a trophy from The Scrap Exchange but they wanted to do something real. Ann rolled her eyes. She said, “C’mon now. What’s more real than a trophy from The Scrap Exchange?”

So we made plans for the reception and figured things out but between one thing and another, a few loose ends didn’t quite get tied up. I said that’s okay, I’ll make the trophy.

So I go to The Scrap Exchange and of course there are no trophies anywhere on the shelves.

(This is one of the problems with things at The Scrap Exchange, it’s not like we can order more if something runs out — what we have is what we have and when it’s gone it’s gone. I always tell people if you see something you like, you should get it because it might not be there tomorrow.)

We looked around the backstock area to see if there were any stragglers hiding out anywhere but didn’t see anything . Then the person working at the checkout desk finds one behind the counter. She says, “Oh look! There is one.”

So I take it home and I’m thinking about what I’m going to do to it and then it occurs to me that maybe it was behind the counter for a reason. So I call the store and leave a message and say I have this trophy, let me know if you actually were saving that.

I get a call from Phoebe the next day who says yes, we were saving that, it’s the star of our Scrapamals movie. We’ve shot part of it already but aren’t done yet, we really need her back. But we have the top of a trophy with no base that we can trade you for.

So I take the trophy back and get the top part and am trying to figure out what I’m going to do for the rest of it when I have a revelation.

Among the things my mom brought me a few years ago were all of my tennis and soccer trophies from growing up. I didn’t necessarily want them, but I hadn’t gotten rid of them yet either, I’d just tossed them in a bin and put them up in the attic.

I realize that I don’t actually need a trophy from The Scrap Exchange, I just need a trophy, I can use one of my old trophies.

So I go up into the attic and bring down the bin of trophies. It turns out that trophies are mix-and-match, and you can put different bases with different stems and different figures. So I put two stems together to make it taller and added the winged victory figurine that Phoebe had given me. Then I attached pieces of a deconstructed computer to it and découpaged cutouts from old computer instruction manuals around the upper part of the base and wrote “RTPNet” in sparkly paper cut-out letters on the lower part of the base.

It looked very special.

We had the reception. We presented Judy with the trophy. She loved it.

It was definitely real.

So the next time you want to do something special for someone, I recommend making them a trophy out of … a trophy. They’ll love it. I promise.


Help! The Scrap Exchange Needs YOU!

Visit the Scrap Exchange website for full details on our fundraiser, or to make a tax-deductible, online donation through PayPal or Network for Good.

Rather go old school? Checks can be made payable to The Scrap Exchange and mailed to 923 Franklin St, Bay 1, Durham, NC 27701.