AUSTIN (KXAN) — In a storefront off Wheless Lane in east Austin, customers peruse through thousands of items of gently used materials — ranging from craft kits to school supplies, books to antiques.

It’s all part of a mission more than a decade in the making, one whose central tenet is simple: divert as much waste from area landfills as possible, all while breathing new life into both everyday and unique materials.

Austin Creative Reuse is a concept born from a group of friends in Austin back in 2009, said Jennifer Evans, executive director of ACR. At the time, Evans said she and some friends had heard of reuse centers popping up across the country.

“Austin is the perfect place for that,” she said. “We have so many creative people and so many green-minded people, who really should have something here and also like that.”

ACR was established in 2009, and its first physical space for people to visit and shop from opened in 2013. Since 2020, ACR has called its current 11,000-square-foot space home.

What is a creative reuse center?

Just as its name suggests, a creative reuse center is a space for people to donate gently used materials that are then sold at extreme discounted prices.

“Maybe they were sitting in the back of someone’s creative closet for a couple of years. Maybe someone started a project and decided it really wasn’t for them,” Evans said. “Bring them to our center and donate them to us, and then we make them available to the community through our retail space here.”

Alongside its store, ACR also hosts special programming and workshops for educators, nonprofits, children and more. To date, Evans said the organization has helped divert approximately two million pounds of materials from ending up in landfills.

Now comfortably moved into its larger space, Evans said ACR is putting the final touches on its brand new, first classroom to host those workshops. ACR will collaborate with local artists and professionals in the community to lead classes for all ages and skill levels, in the hopes of offering a creative refuge for all community members.

“It’s all reuse materials,” she said. “If it doesn’t work, we can try something else and see. Really, it’s just about a way of having fun with these different types of materials.”

For Evans, she said the pride she feels in ACR extends from the customers who visit the center — some for the very first time, and others who’ve become regular faces.

“It’s sort of a wonderland for folks who are interested in trying something new or being creative, or really want to just play with different types of materials that maybe are out of their financial reach going to a traditional store,” she said. “So I really love that — making these types of materials, these types of experiences, accessible to everyone in our community.”

How does ACR assist teachers and families during back-to-school season?

While waste mitigation is a central component of ACR’s mission, Evans said the organization also wants to make creative materials more accessible to as many people as possible, regardless of their financial status or position.

She said that’s particularly poignant when it comes to Austin area educators, who often shell out hundreds of dollars from their own wallets to provide for their students.

“We know that educators, on average, spend about $750 out of their own pockets every single year for their classrooms. It can be a lot higher for folks who work in lower-resource schools, and it can be a lot higher for teachers who are starting out in their first classroom,” she said. “And we also know that parents are also expected to bring a lot of supplies for their students on the first day.”

Last month, ACR received a $66,000 education grant from Impact Austin, which will fund ACR’s mobile school supply shops.

Evans said ACR is purchasing a vehicle that staff members and volunteers can load up with donated school supplies. From there, educators can make appointments for ACR to come and deliver the materials directly to their school campus, or educators can come to the retail store and pick up their own supplies, regardless of how much they can afford to spend.

“It will all be on a ‘pay what you can’ basis, so a budget will never restrict a teacher from having what they need for their classrooms,” she said. “So we’re really excited to break down that last barrier and just be able to get those materials right out to the teachers. They work so hard and we should be making it a little bit more easy for them.”

What are some of the challenges ACR faces?

In more than a decade’s worth of operations, Evans said a continued challenge ACR encounters is dealing with demand levels from the community — particularly in the sheer volume of donations the organization receives.

“We get approximately 50,000 pounds of materials every single month, and we are a very small staff and a relatively small organization,” Evans said. “We really rely on our volunteers, rely on our donors to help us by kind of pre-sorting some of their donations, and they’ve been so patient as we’ve kind of grown into this space.”

But with that demand comes an appetite for this kind of resource within Austin, Evans said. And it’s reflected in the sheer size of its operations: She noted ACR is the biggest creative reuse center in Texas, and one of the largest in the country.

“When we started out, our focus has really been, ‘let’s keep all this stuff out of landfills,'” Evans said. “We were able to go to a sister creative reuse center that focuses on education and learn from them about how they’ve been able to really pull those school supplies out and service the amount of teachers as well.”

What are some upcoming events at ACR?

Amid the full swing of back-to-school season, ACR will host its annual back school sale at the retail center through Aug. 13. Shoppers can fill up an H-E-B bag with supplies for $5, or pick up a backpack and fill it up with supplies for $10.

More details on the event is available online.

How you can help Austin Creative Reuse

For those interested in getting involved with ACR, the nonprofit offers several forms of volunteer and donation opportunities.

Community volunteer days

ACR hosts several community volunteer days each week where anyone can come assist at the center without any age restrictions, application requirements or experience required. All you are asked to do is register in advance, since space is limited.

Examples of community volunteer day activities include:

  • Fabric rolling: measuring, rolling and pricing fabric
  • Fuzzy Fleece for Furry Friends: creating no-sew bed liners for animals at area shelters
  • Sorting and packaging: Compiling similar materials together and packaging them for sale at the center
  • Quilting fabric: Organizing boxes of quilting fabric by size and pattern

Core volunteering

Core volunteering refers to ACR’s volunteers who serve on a more consistent basis. They help sort and price donations, assist customers and volunteer at workshops and ACR-led events, among other opportunities. These volunteers must be age 16 or older to serve.

To become a core volunteer, you can fill out a volunteer application form, attend a volunteer orientation and agree to a background check run by ACR. Once those steps are done, interested volunteers will be invited to ACR’s scheduling system.

Group volunteering

Any schools, religious groups, corporate organizations or community service groups interested in doing volunteer work with ACR can sign up for a group project. ACR offers projects for all ages and levels, with both in-house volunteering on site as well as off-campus opportunities.

Those interested can fill out this group volunteering form.

15-second volunteering

Those with less time on their hands can help spread the word about ACR by forwarding out the nonprofit’s newsletters, following ACR on Instagram, sharing ACR’s Facebook posts or sharing a link to ACR’s website to their community.

Donating to ACR

Those interested in supporting ACR can also do so through financial and material donations. Donations to the nonprofit helps support in-house programming, operations and sustainability efforts. Financial donations can be made online.

Material donations to ACR are tax deductible and tax receipts are available upon request, per ACR’s material donations page.

“An armful” worth of physical donations can be dropped off at ACR’s donation desk any time the nonprofit’s reuse center is open, without the need for an appointment.

If you have a “trunk load,” or larger quantity, of items you’re looking to donate, ACR staff request you make a donation appointment. Those appointments are added on a rolling basis approximately two weeks out.

Those with “a carload or multiple carloads, a moving van/truck, trailer load, or equivalent” are asked to email the nonprofit to schedule a designated donation time outside of regular donation hours.

A complete itemized list of items it will accept, as well as those it doesn’t accept, is available online.

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