No waste at Tri-State area's reuse center

July 10, 1998

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer


Reuse center"Waste not, want not" could be Hope Cucina's motto.

The 43-year-old Hancock-area resident has spent most of her adult life collecting, storing and redistributing usable salvaged building supplies to people who otherwise couldn't afford them.

Seven months ago, after moving to Washington County from Baltimore, Cucina founded the nonprofit Tri-State Reuse Center in Hancock. She and other volunteers, including her mother Mary Burriss, man a warehouse on an acre of leased land at 225 W. Main St.

The Hancock warehouse serves low-income residents in Washington County, Fulton County, Pa., and Morgan County, W.Va.

Outside the storage building are large drums for recycleable glass, metals and plastic, which the center sells to recyclers.

Inside are things such as doors, shelving, paneling, buckets of paint, and even cabinetry knobs. Outside under a concrete bridge are "white goods" - used but working appliances.


Cucina said the center takes something that would otherwise end up buried in a landfill and puts it to use in low-income housing to improve quality of life. At the same time, the environment benefits.

So far the center has gotten referrals from local churches and community-help groups. Many are single mothers, Cucina said.

Material donations have come from construction firms, a retail store, and individual homeowners, and monetary donations have helped pay bills, Cucina said.

The warehouse needs anything used to build or maintain a house, as long as it doesn't contain lead paint or asbestos, and as long as it is truly usable, Cucina said.

"We don't want to spread the problems around. We want to spread the solutions around," she said.

The center has annual membership fees for groups or families who want to use its services. They are: Nonprofit organizations, $15; religious groups, $15; low-income families, $7; environmental neighbor, $10, and profit company (landlord), $25 limited membership.

Membership fees are used for postage and mailings of inventory lists to interested families and nonprofits, she said.

Cucina said fees are also charged for materials picked up at the center, but they are minimal. For example, the center charges $25 for five gallons of Sherwin-Williams paint, which Cucina said would cost $65 or $70 in a retail store, and there is a $5 charge for used glass sliding doors.

If you need an item that isn't in stock, the center will put you on a wish list and contact you when it arrives.

Among the items the center needs are: doors; windows; cabinets; floor coverings; sheet rock; roofing supplies, weatherization materials, tools, and hardware.

The center also collects and distributes for free wheelchairs, walkers and other items needed by the handicapped.

Volunteers are needed for a variety of jobs, and trailers from tractor-trailers are needed for storage.

Cucina is quiet spoken and unassuming, but passionate about her work.

She finds it appalling that usable materials are being buried in landfills. "If it's not a sin, I think it should be a sin," she said. "There's nothing right about it."

Cucina said she became a social "activist" when she was growing up in South Baltimore, and worked in soup kitchens and day centers for the poor.

"I became an activist not by choice," Cucina said. "It's just where my heart was."

Cucina helped found and is on the board of directors of The Loading Dock Inc. of Baltimore, a self-sufficient nonprofit recycler of reusable building material that has helped that city's poor.

Cucina's hope is for a future world where products aren't overpackaged, people aren't bombarded by consumerism, and manufacturers make things with the end of the product in mind. "They should ask, 'Where will it end up?'" she said.

Harvey Hoke, director of the Washington County recycling effort, is on the center's board of directors. He told about a time when a health-related organization dumped walkers and wheelchairs at the county landfill on two occasions. "We gathered them and gave them to the Lions Club," he said. "They were perfectly usable. That's the kind of mentality we're dealing with. I hope this center can work as an educational tool for the community."

related story: Reuse center offers tours, speakers

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