HARTFORD – When the bottle and can donation project at the Cathedral of St. Joseph hit the $20,000 mark, it attracted a good bit of attention. To many parishioners who knew little about the program, the bulletin announcement might have seemed like hitting the jackpot.
The proceeds of the 12-year project have helped fund several annual and special events. Another benefit is its connection with Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’, according to Father James A. Shanley, cathedral rector, who points out that recycling is certainly consistent with the encyclical’s reverence for the planet.
The project’s founder and director, George Ducharme, hopes news of the milestone will help spread the word to other parishes about how a nickel here and a nickel there can add up to real money for them, too.
Mr. Ducharme’s one-can, one-nickel idea back in 2004 yielded the first check for $100, which was donated to the cathedral’s food bank. He was collecting at that time at his residence in the nearby Woodland House Condominiums, where a number of cathedral parishioners live.
When he had generated $500 in regular contributions to the cathedral’s food bank, Mr. Ducharme approached Msgr. Robert D. Bergin, then cathedral rector, with the idea of introducing a similar collecting project within the cathedral.
Msgr. Bergin agreed to publicize the idea. Small bags of bottles and cans soon started to be dropped off at the doors as requested, and the bulletin from time to time announced a significant dollar milestone, encouraging continued donations and calling for volunteers. For several years, however, it remained a one-man show, with Mr. Ducharme taking the donations home and then to the redemption center, at first using the messy and often full or out-of-order grocery store machines before discovering the more efficient city redemption center.
The cans and bottles collected at the cathedral have yielded about $1,500 a month, which is used to support various parish functions, including the annual spring and fall events as well as some special programs for altar servers. Although there are occasional windfalls, most donations, according to Mr. Ducharme, are left in small bags at the cathedral doors by parishioners on their way to Mass. A work closet in the cathedral’s lower level is used to store the bags between weekly processing runs. The whole process is unobtrusive and tidy.
Conducted with little fanfare, the project has been run almost entirely behind the scenes with the help of two dedicated parish volunteers, John Keeney and Bill Hyland, who make weekly runs to the redemption center, hauling several 30-gallon bags in Mr. Keeney’s truck. Both from Manchester, the two men have worked together on this project for several years.
Though Mr. Ducharme no longer does the hauling to the redemption center, he has some scars to prove he’s paid his dues there. After he slipped on the ice and broke his ankle during a weekly run, he received a get-well greeting from Archbishop Emeritus Henry J. Mansell, with whom he had worked for many years. Acknowledging the circumstances of the accident, the archbishop quipped, “Well, George, this just goes to prove that no good deed goes unpunished.”
Mr. Ducharme is involved in many parish activities and continues to work with the collecting effort at his condominium, which separately has contributed over $10,000 to the neighborhood’s Loaves and Fishes Ministry in Hartford.
He likes to share the story about how the program was inspired by his seeing someone throw a Pepsi can in the trash.
“You’re not throwing that away, are you? That’s money,” he recalled saying. The fellow’s reply, “Oh, it’s just a nickel,” spawned the idea. Though he didn’t know then just what he would do with the nickels, Mr. Ducharme was pretty sure something good could come of it.