Scraps KC is the kind of place where the creator in everyone can come to life. Bins of recycled art and industrial products are available for purchase there for a fraction of the retail price. As the creative reuse center is celebrating one year in the West Bottoms, it has adopted 100 low-income classrooms and is starting a program for teachers needing to stock up on affordable supplies for the classroom.
Founder Brenda Mott explains how the educational and artistic mission of Scraps KC was sparked through her own scraps of experience and a desire to help the homeless.
Q: First of all, what is Scraps KC?
A: It is a creative reuse center. People will bring materials they have and donate them. We will sort through them and price them to sell for pennies on the dollar. Artists, teachers and parents, and all sorts of people can come in and buy.
Some items are pre-used. Some are new. Some are from businesses. Some have just been sitting in people’s basements.
Q: How is the store connected to helping the homeless?
A: While the public comes to buy creative supplies, our primary mission is actually to take care of the homeless.
They come in and work for us. They volunteer. We provide them with lunch and things they need to survive on the street. Our store acts as a refuge for them when they need to get off the street. We have had anywhere from three to 18 homeless people in here helping us work.
They do whatever their gift is. If they can sweep, they sweep. If they can empty trash, they empty trash. We have people doing all sorts of things.
Q: How did the ideas of recycled art center and helping the homeless get connected?
A: Our children introduced us to working with the homeless 10 years ago with a church group. My husband and I just continued to do it on our own.
We serve food out of the car to the homeless. When we were serving breakfast at the library one day, a couple of men told us they were bored and looking for something to do. That’s when we decided to open a creative reuse center. It had been something we’d been thinking about for a long time.
The Children’s Museum of Kansas City used to have a recycled materials center. I shopped there as a teacher and parent for 20 years and worked there for three years before they closed. I always loved the concept of reusing. There are creative reuse centers all over the country, but we had not had one in Kansas City for a few years.
We thought opening one would be a good opportunity to do something with the homeless and provide a benefit to the city.
Q: How did you go about getting all this stuff?
A: I started going out and talking to businesses about collecting their scrap materials. We got stuff from businesses that were getting rid of furniture, displays and all the scrap materials. We reclaimed things from the Great Mall of the Great Plains before it was demolished. We collected 12 1/2 tons of materials in our house before we found a location.
Q: What is your “creative space” about?
A: People can come in and create whatever they want with the materials in the back. It’s $5 for 90 minutes. We wanted to provide a place where kids could come in and create with materials they may or may not be familiar with. We don’t have glue or paint there because we want kids to think creatively about how to put things together.
We also do birthday parties. We do a lot of Scout groups. We let them do craft projects and also educate them about homelessness.
Q: How do people react to your combined mission?
A: Everybody loves each piece of the mission.
We have an environmental piece, because we’re collecting things that don’t go in to the landfill.
There’s the educational piece, because we educate people about where the materials come from, the manufacturing history in our community and the history of the West Bottoms. We also do field trips.
The last piece is the homeless piece. People like that because they know that people they see on the streets are coming in and being productive and doing something.
Q: How are you helping teachers?
A: We adopted 100 classrooms this summer that had 90 percent to 100 percent free and reduced lunch students. We collected 8,000 pounds of gently used school supplies. Three hundred community and homeless volunteers came together to clean, sort and repurpose all the supplies so that we could provide them to teachers.
We are also opening a teacher resource center throughout the store. For a $35 yearly fee, any teacher or homeschooling parent can come in once a month and fill a reusable bag for $5 or two for $10. Each month, we’ll highlight a different section of the store. So, in addition to basic school supplies, they can incorporate other supplies into their teaching and get them for far less than they could in the store.
Q: And you said you’ll always take more volunteers?
A: Yes! We take volunteers as young as 3 because we think it’s important to teach them to give back to their community. So if anyone wants to come and volunteer they can. We just want people to come in and experience what we do and how we give back to Kansas City and be a part of it.
Where to find them
Scraps KC is at 1324 W. 12th St. Hours are noon-5 Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday. For more information, go to scrapskc.org.