January 26, 2011

To Raise Funds for Charity, Cornellians Turn Cans to Cash

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Hungover fraternity brothers getting out of bed on Saturday morning may see the Keystone Light cans littering the floor as obstacles, but Dawn Potter — a secretary in Cornell’s Department of Neurobiolgy and Behavior for 22 years — sees the cans as an opportunity.

After the Haitian earthquake last January, Potter and three other volunteers began collecting cans and sending the reclaimed deposits to orphanages in Haiti as part of Project Hope & Help Haiti Missions.

From 15 fraternities, Potter has collected over 100,000 cans, amounting to $5,000 in deposits, over the course of the fall semester.

As students continue to recycle their cans in an effort to be environmentally conscious — or to simply get back the five-cent deposit — organizations have started to realize the opportunity these cans present. Some use the money to supplement the income of a chapter’s employee, others to bolster their social budget or to donate to an organization like Project Hope & Help Haiti Missions, Potter said.

The deposit from one can, Potter calculated, has the potential to feed a Haitian orphan for one day.

“Since the earthquake, the need is so great and the orphanages have tripled in size,” Potter said. “Your heart goes out to them. We knew we needed to do more.”

Nathaniel Steele ’11 has also seen the opportunity that the deposits present and has started a nonprofit: Cans for Causes. Steele takes cans from members of the Cornell community to his own licensed processing center, collecting a 3.5 cent handling fee for the company from bottlers and returning the five cent deposits back to the consumer’s charitable organization of choice.

According to data collected by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, $103 million dollars of unclaimed deposits were thrown in the garbage in 2007 — money which Steele hopes to tap into in the future. This year, Cans for Causes collected $423.20 in five cent deposits from the Cornell community, including five fraternities, that was given directly to charitable organizations.

Before Potter contacted the brothers at Chi Psi last spring about collecting their cans for her charity, the brothers had used the funds from their empty cans to supplement their budget. A semester before that, they were throwing them in the garbage. Now, philanthropy chair Josh Minsky ’11 emails Potter every time there are cans for her to pick up.

“It’s pretty easy to do and it’s making a big difference,” he said. The fraternity was inspired to help after hearing the stories of their fellow fraternity brothers who had traveled to Haiti after the earthquake, Minsky said.

“There are times when our pickup trucks are loaded to the hilts, and we love it,” Potter said.

Travis Apgar, assistant dean of fraternity and sorority affairs, said that students began consuming beer exclusively out of cans at fraternity parties when the Greek system at Cornell and national Greek organizations started banning the use of kegs.

“Having cans slows down the amount [students] drink because of limited access,” he said. “Fraternities started to purchase cans mostly because it’s the rules, but also expectations from national organizations.”

Potter says that the majority of cans handled by her organization are cans of Keystone Light, with a number of assorted soda cans and bottles thrown in.

“95 percent are cans in blue,” she said. “Keystone is the beverage of choice among the brothers.”

The money from these empty cans has already made its way to Haiti, where Potter’s sister, missionary Helen Larkin, has delivered seven tons of rice, cornmeal, sugar, flour and beans to three different orphanages in and around Port au Prince. The food was purchased exclusively by the funds from the cans, she said.

Though Potter has been collecting for Haiti for the past two semesters, she can’t imagine making the trip to deliver the food personally.

“I cant go down because I’ll get hooked,” she said. “I would want to take all the children home with me.”

Original Author: Juan Forrer