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Redistribution Center 'Recycles' Needed Goods - 2002-10-08


No matter how hard businesses try, a small percentage of their products will always have flaws, and even some perfect items will still be waiting for buyers when it is time to put new merchandise on the shelves. That's why millions of useful items end up as trash in America's landfills.

Charities and civic organizations "glean," or salvage, many of these throw-aways before they're buried or destroyed, and redistribute them to people in need. One Denver housewife is proving that it's possible to do a lot of gleaning on a very small budget.

"This is our warehouse. The cost of the building was paid for by a group in New Jersey," says Ranya Kelly.

In her backyard, Ms. Kelly, a Denver housewife, and a friend open the door of a two-story separate garage to reveal shelves piled high with canned and packaged foods, school supplies and other items. The floor is crowded with comfortable chairs, toys, and building supplies. Hanging rods hold brand new good-quality clothes, including dozens of ski jackets in bright rainbow hues.

These are extra coats that we set aside for various things within the community such as use by firefighters, when they have a family's that's burned out, they'll come in and take a coat from us.

Ranya Kelly runs The Redistribution Center, a non-profit organization she founded to collect merchandise that can't be sold and send it on to people in need. As she moves to a wall stacked with shoes, she recalls how the Center began. "Shoes. Boy, it's been 17 years since I crawled into a dumpster and found the first pair of shoes. Actually it was 500 pairs of shoes," she says.

All she was looking for in the trash bin was an empty cardboard box, but when she found the 500 pairs of shoes, she realized that many companies throw away perfectly good items, simply to make room for newer products. She donated those shoes to a homeless shelter - the first of more than 30,000 pairs she has given away, to people in need around the world.

"I continue to go into those dumpsters and stand up for what I believed in. And dumping things that people could use was wrong," she says.

These days, many people donate goods and effort to The Redistribution Center, and though she's been offered a salary by charitable foundations, Mrs. Kelly herself donates between 20 and 90 hours of her time to this mission every week. "I don't know what it is that drives me. It's just this overwhelming feeling to make sure that others have what I've got. A father who's in tears because he doesn't have the workboots, or somebody whose house has burned down that can't figure out how to get the lumber. I mean, it's consuming to me, the thought that others go without," Ms. Kelly says. With an annual budget of $30,000, Ranya Kelly delivers $3 million worth of gleaned items to people around the world, every year. As she educates companies about her mission, she finds that many are eager to pitch in.

"Boxes that are crinkled. Cans that are dented," Ralph Powell, manager of the King Snoopers Reclamation Center says. He runs two Colorado grocery store chains. Every day, they send him the one percent of slightly damaged goods they cull from their shelves. Mr. Powell donates them to more than 120 non-profit groups around the state, including the Redistribution Center. "You could just throw the product away. That would be the cheapest way to dispose of it. But I think we all know in our hearts that this is a good program, it works, it helps people out who can't afford to buy a lot of groceries. So, that's why [we do it]," Mr. Powell says.

Teenagers, churches and civic groups often help out at the backyard warehouse, according to Ms. Kelly and her friend, Sue Widdison.

Kelly: "A couple of days ago we had the Arvada firefighters come out and unload 10 palettes of stuff for us."

Widdison: "And they come in and we're going, be careful, that box is heavy, and they load three of them up and pick-em up and carry them."

"It's amazing all the contacts she has and everything and that her heart's so big," says Mike Kulp at the fire station. He says his crews are happy to lend a hand. "That feeling that you get inside, when you help somebody out. I think that's what drives a lot of people in the fire service," he says.

Back at her warehouse, Ranya Kelly says she's grateful that so many people help her glean. "We have to band together. Whatever beliefs you might have, whatever walks of life you might be, we have to stand together, and pass that on to our kids," she says.

This year, Ranya Kelly is working to get a new truck for the Redistribution Center so that she can collect even more merchant discards for the many people who need them.