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A dumpster-diving prof

A dumpster-diving prof

Thomas M. Columbus July 25, 2022
While on the way home from graduation several years ago, Susan Gardstrom, professor and coordinator of UD’s graduate music therapy program, noticed, by a dumpster in an alley, an IKEA bookcase. It matched hers at home. So it joined them. Realizing the needs of others, she has returned to dumpsters, salvaging multitudinous carloads of material for Dayton’s St. Vincent de Paul. The following is a reflection on one of her dumpster-diving episodes.

Illustration of a person getting into a dumpster.It’s usually very quiet before 8 a.m. So I am surprised to encounter Dean, a South Park neighborhood resident who waits tables at a local restaurant by night and dumpster dives by day “to make ends meet.” He rides up on his rickety black bicycle, a large cloth satchel draped across his chest.

“Anything good in there?” he queries, nodding toward the massive bin.

“Don’t know, just arrived,” I reply. With no mask, no gloves, no hesitation whatsoever, Dean scales the side of the rusty dumpster and disappears from view.

A few seconds later, his disembodied voice rings out, “Whatcha lookin’ for, anyway?” When I tell him why I’m there, he immediately begins balancing items on the rim of the bin, gingerly lining them up one-by-one as if displaying a prized collection of antique vases in a shop window. First, an unopened can of tomato soup. Next to that, a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Then, an unopened three-pack of facial tissues.

“Oh my God, you won’t believe this” (a brand new four-slice Sunbeam toaster in its original box) and, “Why would anyone throw this away?” (a woman’s small Vera Bradley purse in mint condition). 

“Why would anyone throw this away?”

When Dean emerges a few minutes later, I rather expect that he will pack his satchel with the food he has found. Instead, he offers to help me load every item that he has into the back of my vehicle, saying, “I’m only hungry a couple times a week. Someone else has far greater need.”

24 tons and what do you get?