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Creative Chicago Reuse Exchange keeps supplies for teachers, artists out of landfills

Chicago reuse exchange keeps teachers' and artists' supplies out of landfills
Chicago reuse exchange keeps teachers' and artists' supplies out of landfills 02:22

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Chicago teachers, artists, and nonprofits often operate on a shoestring budget – and at the same time, huge amounts of supplies end up in the landfill.

Wednesday is America Recycles Day, and CBS 2's Sara Machi found a group that has a solution.

The Creative Chicago Reuse Exchange is located at 2124 W. 82nd Pl. in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood. Nearly every corner of the nonprofit's headquarters is filled with supplies.

"We have to kind of keep it organized," said Barbara Koenen, founder of the Creative Chicago Reuse Exchange. "Otherwise, it's like chaos, right?"

But there is so much there that keeping track of the totals is a challenge.

"OK, so this year, so far, we've had 682 shoppers," Koenen said. "We've taken in 40 tons of material from over 300 donors."

The Creative Chicago Reuse Exchange stocks everything from books and ink toner to tools and trophies - a supply treasure-trove this group tries to keep out of the trash.

"Because once it's in the landfill, it's gone," said Koenen.

They target teachers, nonprofits, and artists, but serve anyone - giving some of the supplies away for free, and selling some at deep discounts.

"We have had teachers who actually started crying when they came here," Koenen said.

Teacher Rhonda Hardy came to the Creative Chicago Reuse Exchange after hearing about it through word-of-mouth.

"This is about my third or fourth time, so this is a good place," she said.

Hardy joked that she'd like to keep the exchange a secret for herself.

"I did not want everybody to know about it, because then they might take some of my stuff," she quipped.

Koenen created the exchange after seeing something similar in New York City. Everything on the shelves at the exchange - and even the shelves themselves - are donated.

On Wednesday afternoon, crews unloaded a sizable donation from Hyde Park Art Center. Koenen said she hopes the exchange changes consumer habits.

"You know, we have 3 million people who live in Chicago - and they all have stuff," she said.

The exchange is open by appointment on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

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