West suburban woman repurposes trash to save environment, help community

Chicago's Very Own

ADDISON, Ill. A west suburban woman’s passion for saving the environment and sustainable practices created a passion for repurposing and reusing items.

Kay McKeen’s passion turned into a unique non-profit organization, looking to repurpose items thrown in the garbage to help those in need.

“We want to get rid of the words garbage, refuse, it’s all recovery,” McKeen said.

McKeen’s non-profit has found ways to make use out of seemingly everything, including bread tags, old Christmas lights and broken crayons.

As the founder of ‘School and Community Assistance for Recycling and Composting Program’ or SCARCE, McKeen started the foundation in 1990 in an effort to keep books out of landfills.

Operating a book rescue program in a small west suburban basement, McKeen had no idea the concept would take off.

Today, SCARCE is housed in an 18,000 square foot warehouse in Addison, where rows of textbooks and other supplies are readily available for teachers and students in need.

McKeen also collects musical instruments to share with school districts.

For others in the community, the presence of SCARCE has made a monumental difference.

“We have a lot of low income families so this is a great place for us to provide materials for the families to do at home,” Maricela Ramirez said.

Ramirez works for a children’s head start program and said the assistance, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, has been vital.

McKeen estimates she has saved nearly 8,500,000 books throughout the years. Her staff has grown to 50 volunteers and she partners with hundreds of organizations, with an impact reaching across the globe.

“One time somebody found us on the news in Ethiopia and South Korea,” McKeen said.

McKeen’s daughter, Beverly Jaszczurowski said the success of SCARCE has had a profound ripple effect on others.

For McKeen, teaching sustainability is all it truly takes to make the world a better place.

“Little things add up, little things can change the world and the little things can change a life,” McKeen said.

If you would like to donate to SCARCE or for more information, their website can be accessed here.

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