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Local Spotlight: The Can Lady Project

Mary Stumpp was inspired to help her community 12 years ago by doing something simple: recycling. 

She founded The Can Lady Project, an Indianapolis nonprofit, which has so far collected almost 10 million cans. Stumpp explains to Indy’s Child how she started this project, and why she uses it to educate local youth. 

What is The Can Lady Project? 

It is an effort to demonstrate the value of recycling to kids in the community in hopes of getting them to recycle. I collect aluminum cans, sell them for scrap and use all the money to fund grants for teachers in public schools. So, if the schools give me enough cans, they get iPads, rugs, books and things like that. 

What inspired this project? 

There’s a lot of little things. I could sit around, do nothing and complain, or I could get up and do something to get money in the hands of teachers and teach kids about recycling. As more people became involved and it became more of a project instead of just something for me to do, it became The Can Lady Project!

Why did you decide to raise money for Indianapolis schools? 

I was talking to a little friend in second grade at the same time that property taxes in my neighborhood were soaring. His class was going to do an overnight at the zoo and some of the kids couldn’t afford the fees, and I thought that was ridiculous. I don’t have children of my own, so this is my way to help. Getting them involved is part of the solution to help with environmental problems, too. 

What are some items you’ve purchased for schools? 

A lot of iPads for classrooms, reading nooks this past school year — little areas often under staircases where students can go and read or get some private tutoring or just hang out that is a little quieter than the classroom. We have purchased a bunch of basketballs for a school, too. It is about little paperwork for teachers and positive reinforcement while learning to recycle.

What is Your Safety in Numbers Project? 

If you live on an alley, you need to also have your house numbers there. Because if your house is on fire or someone is breaking into the back and first responders come up the alley looking for your house, they don’t know which one is yours unless you have the house numbers. It is really important. So, we stamp numbers out of aluminum cans because they don’t rust, attach them to a cedar board, and then we sell them. It is a great way to reuse cans and they are pretty. The kids love making them. The Can Lady’s favorite word is participation.   

To help with The Can Lady Project — to drop off donations or purchase a Safety in Numbers product, which is tax deductible — visit thecanladyproject.org.

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