Lyla Games, Grey Bears Thrift Store manager, arranges
items offered for sale. The Thrift Store is open from 9-2 Monday through
Friday. Photo: Debbie Bulger
A feeling of joy and satisfaction pervades the Grey Bears'
recycling facility in mid-Santa Cruz County. It is palpable.
On this 3-acre plot, seniors are hard at work recycling just
Founded in 1973 by two UCSC students (helped by local senior,
Frank Gallagher) who didn't want surplus produce from their
garden to go to waste, Grey Bears has evolved into a non-profit
that gives seniors a reason to get out of the house and do
Rolled bundles of old newspapers await transport to their next life protecting flowers
during shipment to markets across the country. Photo: Debbie Bulger
"I like to say we are recycling the life skills of seniors
to benefit the community," expresses Lynn Francis, Executive
Director. Relying on about 500 volunteers assisted by a staff
of 7, the California Grey Bears keeps 11,000 tons of material
out of local landfills annually and uses the proceeds to feed
Almost nothing is wasted. Many of the volunteers remember
collecting string and newspapers during World War II and employ
those long-ago-learned skills to meet the challenge of a sustainable
modern economy. The organization distributes donated and gleaned
fresh produce to 2300 seniors per week. Produce that cannot
be distributed is fed to livestock or turned into high-quality
compost which is sold dirt cheap.
Computer components are separated by donated
labor. Photo: Debbie Bulger
In a small shed on the Grey Bears property on Chanticleer
Avenue in Live Oak, volunteers disassemble old computers to
recover the valuable parts. Recently retired Ron and Carolyn
Stephenson are the volunteer managers of the computer refurbishing
program. "We remove and sell lots of computer parts including
the wires," explains Ron, holding up an old Pentium chip.
"If you grind it up to recycle, you get less money. This
chip contains 60¢ worth of gold."
The volunteer labor makes the economics pencil out. In the
next building workers give new life to old newspapers by rolling
them into bundles which are sold to growers to protect flowers
being shipped nationwide. "Scrap newspapers can be sold
for $50/ton; rolled, they sell for $200/ton.
Grey Bears volunteer, Marie, is dwarfed
by one of the giant Earth Tubs that turn food waste into garden
compost. Photo: Debbie Bulger
By working with Santa Cruz County programs, Grey Bears complements
government activities rather than competing with them. For
example, the recycling program at the Buena Vista landfill
operated by Santa Cruz County is run by Grey Bears. Their
for-profit subsidiary, SCRAP, which recycles cardboard and
plastic film for local business customers, operates with the
County's blessing as it diverts these materials from the county
In addition to recycling, Grey Bears promotes re-use. They
operate a thrift shop where household treasures, clothing
and furniture are offered for sale. In Grey Bears' computer
shop, refurbished computers are sold at bargain prices to
those who might otherwise not be able to afford one.
Membership in Grey Bears costs $20/year. Volunteers get bags
of produce, lunch and a chance to join in the fun. Special
events throughout the year include a volunteer recognition
dinner, a fall picnic, and a Holiday Dinner for 2500 seniors.
Learning opportunities such as cooking and computer classes
enrich members lives.
Volunteer Ken Miller removes components from an
old computer. Photo: Debbie Bulger
After viewing the movie Calendar Girls, some of the Grey
Bears volunteers and staff decided to publish a risqué
calendar. Executive director, Lynn Francis is Ms February.
She is described as valuing "love, harmony, peace and
waste reduction." To see enticing photos of Grey Bears
Calendar Girls visit www.greybears.org.
Do you have extra produce?
If your fruit trees are especially prolific or your garden
overbursting with tomatoes, string beans or other luscious
veggies, consider donating your extra produce to Grey Bears.
Deliver produce to their facility at 2710 Chanticleer Avenue,
Santa Cruz. Call 479-1055 if you need assistance to pick the
fruit off your trees. Don't let that good food go to waste.