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Man with autism is recycling crayons for school in need

The guest blog post is by Sheila Morovati,  mother of 2 children and the founder & president of Crayon Collection. Her work highlights habits of waste through the collection and redistribution of the 150 million like-new crayons that restaurants throw away each year. She is proud to know that the Crayon Collection model she created lends itself to give so many people a sense of purpose and fulfillment.

Eight years ago I had an idea that crept into my mind. My daughter was about 3 years old and was a self-proclaimed fruitarian, except when we went to one restaurant that served “amazing” buttered noodles, plain soybeans, and avocado.

Each time we would go out to eat we would receive a brand new 4-pack of crayons. Given that Sofia was just a toddler she may have used 1 or 2 of the colors for a total of 10 minutes. The crayons would get pushed to the side of the table as the meal would arrive. It was after we would finish eating that something always seemed strange and unusual to me – the crayons held no value to anyone. Each and every table around us had left their crayons behind, many of which hadn’t even come out of the box yet.

A sense of guilt would wash over me because I was well aware of all the children around the world that would yearn for this colorful gem. I did some research and found out that restaurants were throwing away 150 million crayons per year, which never decompose.  Meanwhile schools needed supplies desperately and teachers were spending their personal earnings to outfit their classrooms with supplies. I decided to do something about this.

It became clear after contacting a few restaurants, that they were more than willing to help out and collect the crayons diners leave behind as long as someone were to pick them up. So, I figured that if we connect the restaurant with a local school, a teacher or staff member could swing by once per month and pick up the crayons. Later, we developed a free standards compliant art education program that schools can download on our website.

This is where Willie comes in and why I am sharing my story with Autism Speaks. As Crayon Collection grew I realized that this tendency to throw away good crayons happens all over the United States and beyond our borders. While I continued to call as many restaurants and schools as possible, I knew the problem was much bigger than we could handle alone. I started a volunteer program so that individuals worldwide could help us in their own local neighborhoods.

Willie is young man of 30, living on Cape Cod in a residential program for young adults with disabilities. Willie is an incredible artist living with autism, and he is one of our wonderful volunteers. He learned about the Crayon Collection through his mother, a local Angeleno. Once he realized how wasteful restaurants were being, he quickly went online and downloaded information off crayoncollection.org and then started introducing the program to local family restaurants. Willie and his friend hit the streets and managed to convince a Friendly’s location to participate in collecting crayons. Then, Willie went back several weeks later to collect the crayons to benefit a school needing supplies. 

What was amazing for me was hearing the sense of accomplishment that Willie and his friends felt after volunteering for Crayon Collection. Their efforts made an enormous difference for us here because we had never attempted to contact anyone on Cape Cod yet. This was amazing to see that our idea made it all the way there, thanks to Willie and his friends.

We realize now that one of the challenges young adults living with autism face is  how to stay engaged and active during the day. The work Willie did helped us tremendously, supported a school in need and alleviated so much non-decomposable paraffin wax from entering another over-filled landfill. Here are the easy steps anyone anywhere can take to participate in our program and ultimately help change the life of a student in need:

Step 1:  Locate local family friendly restaurants in your area.

Step 2: Contact the restaurant manager at non-peak hours. Suggested times to contact them are between 10am-11:30am 2:30pm-4:30pm

Step 3: Ask the manager to start collecting the clean crayons diners leave behind. (If they like, a sign can be downloaded here)

Step 4: Crayons should be picked up once per month. Volunteers can pick up the crayons and donate them to a local school looking for supplies. Schools can be found using our school finder at: http://crayoncollection.org/collection.html

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.