Home SQ Awards Program SQ Projects SQ Workshops SQ Articles

SQA Online Resource Center



2710 Chanticleer Ave.
Santa Cruz, CA 95065
Central phone: 831-479-1055
E-mail: greybears@cruzio.com
Product or service: Reuses and recycles a variety of materials that generate revenues to assist low-income seniors.
Award Status: Overall Excellence

The California Grey Bears, Inc., has been a vital community resource for seniors in the Santa Cruz community for 25 years. The organization has found innovative ways to reuse and recycle materials most businesses consider to be plain "trash," and, in the process, generates revenues to assist low-income seniors.

The Senior Brown Bag Lunch Program is a food program that annual serves over 2 million pounds of food derived from a "second harvest" during the growing season. With additional donated produce, CA Grey Bears supplements the diets of to 2,700 seniors each week throughout most of the year.

The California Grey Bears honor our senior citizens at several events, including the annual Christmas Dinner, Recognition Lunch, and Harvest Picnic while enlisting a maximum of participation from members of the community.

The California Grey Bears develops and implements creative and innovative program that, through reuse and recycling, annually divert 2 million pounds of food, 9 million pounds of recyclable materials and one-half million pounds of reusable household items.

Act as a model of self-sufficiency for other community non-profit organizations by generating 75% of their annual program costs through revenues resulting from their recycling programs.

Make interesting opportunities available for over 500 seniors and developmentally disabled community members to work together each week to help themselves, other seniors and the community at large.

Promote and enhance year-by-year a model program that embraces these valuable community concepts: "seniors helping seniors," "waste not want not," and "we turn cash into trash."

The California Grey Bears -- a model of self-sufficiency, programs that generate revenue, and provide solid waste diversion -- has shown our community how existing resources, creativity and teamwork can be leveraged to ensure the quality of life for our seniors in the greater Santa Cruz area.

I. Economic Development

A few years after Grey Bears was established, volunteers looked at ways of generating additional revenues to fund the Brown Bag Program. They started collecting newspaper and rolling it into bundles to sell to the floral industry to insulate packages that are shipped throughout the USA. In 1994, Grey Bears received a Recycling Marketing Development Zone loan for manufacturing a product that uses recycled material. In the early 1980's when Ecology Action closed down their recycling operation on 17th Avenue, Grey Bears started expanding its operations to ensure that the public had a place to continue recycling their household materials. This was years before recycling became fashionable in Santa Cruz County.

Over the years, Grey Bears has developed a tongue-in-cheek motto that describes our "modus operandi" - "We turn trash into cash." Grey Bears has maintained its self-sufficiency through hard work, and the support and trust of the community. Due to the fact that people can see the direct results of their donations at work, Grey Bears has been able to maintain community support on many levels. We are able to generate about three-quarters of our operating budget ourselves, the last quarter comes from local government support of the Brown Bag Program. Additionally, if one were to calculate the estimated number of pounds of food, recycling, and rummage that the community donates in one year, the amount would stagger the imagination. The Brown Bag Program brings in 2 million pounds of food; the Recycling Program brings in about 9 million pounds; and the Thrift Store/Rummage Dept. brings in a half million pounds of materials each year.

With an eye toward the future, the Grey Bears' Board of Directors took the opportunity to invest in two additional pieces of property adjacent to the one Grey Bears purchased in 1986. The first property houses the "Brown Bag" Program and office space, with a few coolers, freezer, parking area for our vehicles, and the cardboard baler. The second piece of property houses the Thrift Store, paper rollers' warehouse, and parking for the volunteers. The third property houses our recycling drop-off center. Before we purchased this last real estate, the recycling drop-off center was located in front of the office and contained on a 20' by 30' parcel. Grey Bears is prepared to be here when the Baby Boomers become Senior Boomers!

II. Social Responsibility

In an article written by Karen Davis entitled Seniors Helping Seniors- California Grey Bears Utilize the County's Overlooked Resources, Ms. Davis cites, "This model system of recycling not only makes use of foods and reusable materials that would otherwise be wasted, but it incorporates the skills of a resource sometimes neglected in our society: it relies on the important contributions older citizens can make in the working of their community." This article appeared in City on a Hill Press in December 1988 and these remarks are even more valid today. In order to be as self-sufficient as possible, Grey Bears devised a number of programs that have provided opportunities for economic development as well as environmental stewardship.

The purpose of everything Grey Bears does is "Seniors Helping Seniors" in a friendly, supportive, and nourishing environment. Every year, Grey Bears hosts a Volunteer Recognition Luncheon, a Harvest Picnic for seniors, and an annual Christmas Dinner that honors the elders of our community while enlisting a maximum of participation from the community. In this way, Grey Bears is a socially responsible agency. Court referrals, people from halfway houses, and Skills Center participants have an opportunity to work alongside seniors and reenter society at their own pace. In 1991, the volunteers at Grey Bears received national recognition under President Bush's administration as the 975th Daily Point of Light.

A team of 20 seniors go into the fields weekly during the growing season and harvest what is left for a second time. This and other donated produce are utilized to supplement the diets of 2,700 seniors each week in Santa Cruz County throughout most of the year. Eight hundred of these recipients are homebound for medical reasons. Farmers in the tri-county area are happy to provide their fields for our gleaning teams rather than turn them under for fodder.

Many seniors who lived through the depression learned the value of not wasting anything. Seniors remember recycling during World War II although the nature of recycling has changed a lot since that time, but the value of "Waste not, want not," is still relevant. In America, we have gone from the disposable, throwaway society of the 1980's to a society that is interested in preserving and conserving all our natural resources. Grey Bears is an excellent example of how by utilizing the skills of people, we can salvage items that would otherwise be thrown away, and use these items to the benefit of thousands of people living on low or fixed incomes in our county.
III. Environmental Stewardship

By 1992, Grey Bears' recycling operation had grown to diverting 300 tons per month from the local landfills. Through an Alliance initiated by Grey Bears and local recyclers, the Santa Cruz Recycling Alliance Program, also known as SCRAP, was incorporated. The purpose of SCRAP is to be the collection arm for Grey Bears specifically established to collect commercial cardboard. This is a free service, supplemented by a small grant from the County. SCRAP started collecting about 15 tons of cardboard from businesses in the City of Scotts Valley and expanded over the last two years to collecting cardboard in the unincorporated county. SCRAP now picks up approximately 90 tons of cardboard per month providing jobs and a way to enable small to medium size businesses to save money by keeping the material out of trash bins. SCRAP was also founded on the notion of being a collaborative effort to maintain independence for small, local recyclers. With some additional financing, SCRAP could expand its operation to collecting commercial paper accounts. SCRAP has 2 full-time and 4 part-time staff people. To run the Brown Bag Program, Recycling Program, Volunteer Program, and Buena Vista Recycling Drop-off Center, Grey Bears employs a small staff of 7 full-time and 4 part-time workers.

In addition to a Volunteer Program which enlists the life skills of approximately 500 people a week, the Brown Bag Program, and the Recycling Program, Grey Bears holds regular rummage sales, staffs a Thrift Store which reuses many items rather than see them thrown away. Starting October 1, 1997, Grey Bears is now running the Recycling Drop-off Center for the County at the Buena Vista Landfill.


Copyright 1994-2006 Sustainable Quality Awards
Last modified: Jan. 22, 2006