NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION CATEGORY -- California Grey Bears, Inc.
2710 Chanticleer Ave.
Santa Cruz, CA 95065
Central phone: 831-479-1055
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
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
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.