Restaurants Waste 150 Million Crayons Each Year. This Charity Is Donating Them to Classrooms

cupephoto/iStock via Getty Images
cupephoto/iStock via Getty Images

When most people think of restaurant waste, they picture spoiled produce and uneaten leftovers. In a single year, the restaurant industry sends roughly 11.4 million tons of food waste to landfills [PDF]. But Sheila Michail Morovati had a different type of restaurant waste on her mind when she took her then-toddler out to eat nearly 10 years ago. Like many places that cater to families, the eatery they went to gave out brand-new boxes of crayons for coloring kid menus, and when the check was paid, Morovati left the barely used crayons behind to be disposed of along with the food scraps.

"I noticed all the tables around me were doing the same thing, and kept thinking: there are budget cuts in education, teacher spending has skyrocketed, [and] there’s no art education left," Morovati tells Mental Floss. "So I just decided to ask some restaurants to start collecting the crayons kids leave behind.”

That initiative she took nearly a decade ago has since ballooned into an international operation. Today, Crayon Collection works in nine countries and all 50 states and has been formally recognized by both the U.S. Congress and Buckingham Palace for its achievements. The organization's goal is simple: salvage crayons in good condition that are destined for the trash and provide them to classrooms in under-served school districts. To date, it has led to the donation of more than 13 million crayons.

Crayon Collection aims to chip away at the 150 million crayons thrown away by restaurants each year, but its impact goes beyond the environment. When school budgets are cut, art classes are usually the first programs to go. And if those schools do have art supplies, teachers are often paying for them out of pocket. But if schools have a family restaurant in their community, they may already have a source of free, practically new crayons at their disposal.

“We’ve been able to completely support [teachers] not just in one area of the classroom, but we’ve also raised awareness about why it’s so important to not put this pressure on teachers,” Morovati says. “It’s just such a sustainable and great win-win.”

Children drawing with crayons in class.
Crayon Collection

The organization sources most of its crayons from restaurants. Because the crayons handed out at eating establishments are only used for a few minutes—if at all—there’s little difference between them and crayons that are bought new from the store. But anyone can donate any gently used crayons they have at home to a collection site. Crayon Collection’s Color Kindness program encourages kids with leftover crayons at the end of the school year to pack them up in bundles and send them to underfunded schools with a handwritten note. Not only do recipients benefit from the gift, but the kid senders get a lesson in paying it forward.

Crayon Collection’s progress shows no signs of slowing down. Last year, the organization broke the Guinness World Record for most crayons donated to charity in 8 hours by collecting more than 1 million crayons for Los Angeles schools. One of the nonprofit’s most recent projects is a collaboration with Penguin Young Readers. The publisher designed special collection boxes branded with characters from the kids’ book The Day the Crayons Quit to send to 3000 restaurants around the country. Anyone can get their community involved by becoming a crayon ambassador and recruiting local restaurants to request a box and save their old crayons for donation. You can also donate to the organization directly through PayPal.

Morovati is confident that if you reach out to your neighborhood restaurants about Crayon Collection, they’ll be receptive to the idea. “Back when I first started, I talked to different restaurants and kept trying to explain the whole process," she says. "Now they understand right off the bat like, 'Oh we’re already on it.' I want this to be a societal norm that people don’t throw away good stuff like these crayons. I hope that that’s a symbolic shift in behavior toward many other things. Plastic straws are one of them, plastic water bottles—virtually anything that still has life to it that could be used.”

Phoenix High School Builds Laundry Room to Assist Underprivileged Students

harmpeti/iStock via Getty Images
harmpeti/iStock via Getty Images

At Maya High School in Phoenix, Arizona, a large closet off the cafeteria has been converted into a laundry room called “The Missing Sock,” complete with a washing machine, a dryer, and even laundry detergent—no quarters or cards needed.

According to AZFamily, principal John Anderson came up with the idea after realizing that many of the school’s students—more than 30 percent of whom are homeless—were reluctant to even show up for school simply because they didn’t have a way to wash their clothes. After talking to one student in particular, who explained that his family wasn’t providing him with the basic resources he needed in order to succeed in school, Anderson decided it was time for the school itself to step up.

So, with the help of grants from the Leona Group, the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the Fiesta Bowl, Anderson and his colleagues built their own miniature laundromat, much like West Side High School in New Jersey did last year. If similar endeavors elsewhere are any indication, Maya High School could see a pretty significant quantitative impact on attendance: Schools that received appliances from Whirlpool as part of their Care Counts program, for example, saw a two-day rise in attendance rates for chronically absent students and a staggering increase in class participation.

“I come from a homeless background,” Maya High School special projects coordinator (and graduate) Andreya De La Torre told AZFamily. “Coming to school smelling, kids don’t want to be by you. They are talking about you. And it’s just really hard to focus on your education when you are focused on your self-esteem.”

In addition to giving underprivileged kids easy access to clean clothes, “The Missing Sock” is also a symbol of Maya’s commitment to providing its students with more than just academic skills.

“We offer them life skills to teach them things that someone is probably not teaching them on the outside … and to show them love,” De La Torre explained to AZFamily.

“We make them believe in themselves and want to do it for themselves,” Anderson added.

And it doesn’t stop at the laundry room—Maya High School just earned another grant from the Arizona Diamondbacks, which Anderson will use to install showers in the school, too.

[h/t AZFamily]

New Jersey Is the Latest State to Push for Cursive in the Classroom

Ridofranz/iStock via Getty Images
Ridofranz/iStock via Getty Images

If you happen to have spent some time with kids who graduated from elementary school in the last decade or so, you may notice they have little idea how to form the graceful Gs and 2-shaped Qs of cursive—or any other cursive letter, for that matter. The cursive alphabet was cut from the Common Core curriculum in 2010, and it’s been making those of us who learned it feel old ever since.

However, a number of states—most recently, Texas—have elected to reintroduce cursive into schools in the last few years, and New Jersey is hoping to follow suit. According to WPEC, Assemblywoman Angela McKnight is sponsoring a bill that would require students to master reading and writing in cursive by the end of third grade.

“Our world has indeed become increasingly dependent on technology, but how will our students ever know how to read a scripted font on a Word document, or even sign the back of a check, if they never learn to read and write in cursive?” McKnight asked in a press release. “This bill will ensure every young student in New Jersey will have this valuable skill to carry with them into adulthood.”

Opponents could make the argument that physical checks and scripted fonts are well on their way to becoming relics of the past right alongside cursive literacy, but it’s not just real-world applications that make learning the loopy alphabet such a valuable skill.

“Some research suggests that learning to read and write in cursive benefits the development of cognitive, motor, and literacy skills,” the bill says. “In addition, instruction in cursive handwriting has been associated with improved academic outcomes for students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia.”

It may also increase your SAT scores, improve your spelling, and more—read about its other benefits here.

[h/t WPEC]

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