Local bottle drives help youth with jobs, skills and supports

The Westboro Community Association has partnered with Bottle Works to run monthly bottle drives in Kitchissippi. Photo courtesy of Bottle Works.

By Charlie Senack 

A new bottle drive has come to Kitchissippi which aims to collect funds to help disadvantaged kids in the community. 

The new eco-friendly initiative has led the Westboro Community Association to partner with Bottle Works, a social enterprise which is run through Operation Come Home. 

According to its website, BottleWorks is a “free commercial and residential bottle pick-up service that collects over half a million refundable alcohol containers each year.”

Revenue generated by collecting the empty alcohol bottles goes towards “paid rotation-based employment for young adults facing barriers to employment, vocational skills development, and social supports.”  

Shlomo Coodin, a marketing and social enterprise youth support worker at Operation Come Home, said before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many of their empties were donated by restaurants in the community. But when they were forced to close for indoor dining due to restrictions, Bottle Works saw a reduction of about 50 per cent, forcing them to find alternative ways to collect empties. 

That’s when they started bottle drives in local communities: opportunities for nearby residents to drop their empties off at a designated location once a month. 

“People love coming out and seeing their neighbours, seeing us, and I think one of the great things is the individual amounts may not add up to much, but when the whole community comes together, it really does make a difference,” Coodin said. 

Bottle Works held its first bottle drive this winter in Kitchissippi. Photo courtesy of Bottle Works.

The first bottle drive in the community was held in the parking lot of Broadview Public School on Dec. 11. Despite the weather, there was a good turnout, according to the organizers. January’s drive had to be cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions, but if all goes well, they will be held again at the same location on the second Saturday of each month soon. 

In 2021, Coodin says they collected over 900,000 empty alcohol containers across Ottawa. 

The Westboro Community Association says it was an easy decision to get on board with the idea when the organization was first approached last fall. 

“It was such an obvious program to participate in,” said Fiona Marrow, a board member at the community association for eight years. “It does such good and Westboro is a community with so many people who want to do so much good, and this is such an easy way to support a worthy initiative.”

Marrow says it’s also an easy and feel good way to support a good hearted cause. 

“I don’t love returning my empties to the beer store,” she admitted. “Sometimes the line is long, and to be honest it’s such a feel-good way to do it. I dump them in my trunk, I drive to the Broadview parking lot, the kids who are benefiting from this pull them out of my trunk, and we are done and I drive away. It’s such an easy and simple process and for such a good cause.”

Bottle Works vehicle stopping by Westboro. Photo courtesy of Bottle Works.

Operation Come Home first started in 1971 after a local reverend recognized the need to help runaway youth reunite with their families. The mission to get children back home has evolved over the decades, and now, the organization also offers a multitude of comprehensive programs and educational opportunities to clients. 

In 2008, the organization decided to start a pilot project that would collect empty alcohol bottles. The money from collecting them would then be used to help fund their initiatives. 

“We are able to offer these youth employment in the program, but I think what’s so great about it is we are able to offer supported employment,” said Coodin. “Each day, youth are paired with a support worker who is out with them on the trucks. It’s great to build that connection and offer that support traditional community employment won’t have. Sometimes, the youth we are working with struggle with uncertain challenges, and that can be anything from unstable housing or mental health, food insecurity, elements that can often add a barrier to employment.”

Other services Operation Come Home provides include a food bank; drop in mental health and counselling services; addictions counselling; job and housing programs; and clothing services. 

For many youth who are in unfortunate circumstances, it’s a one-stop shop for all their needs. Coodin, who also helps run a similar program called Food Works, said they strive to bring a unified front to everything they do. 

“One of the great things about this organization—and why I love working here— is we really get a lot done with the limited resources we have,” he said. “It’s always an adventure to see how we are going to make things work. It’s really special to come work in a place everyday where people care. People are here because they want to make a difference and help others.”

If COVID-19 restrictions allow, the next Bottle Works Drive in the community will be held in the parking lot of Broadview Public School on Feb. 12 from 9:30 a.m until 12:30 p.m. The Westboro Community Association said they will be posting up-to-date information about the program on their website and social media pages. 

This story ran in the Giving section of Kitchissippi Times’ February 2022 edition.

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