No can do: Merrimack’s “Cans for Kids” program ends

Correspondent photo by LORETTA JACKSON John Grady, left, and Ted Parmenter, members of the Exchange Club of Merrimack, load up the last of hundreds of donated aluminum beverage cans that generated some $70,000 through the club’s “Cans for Kids” program, one that provided numerous benefits to the town’s youth and families but now is ended after a lifespan of 29 years.

Businesses, civic organizations and other entities with a focus on fundraising are invited to inquire about reviving in their towns a newly discontinued “Cans for Kids” aluminum beverage can recycling program, a Merrimack enterprise that generated some $70,000 in its lifetime of 29 years.

The “Cans for Kids” program was launched in 1988. It was established by members of the Exchange Club of Merrimack, founded in 1984. The club is a local part of the National Exchange Club, a nonprofit dedicated to community, family and country.

Charter member John Grady, 66, of Merrimack, along with Merrimack can recycling chairman and past-president Ted Parmenter, 70, recently demolished the last of four big, blue, “Cans for Kids” recycling sheds, each capable of holding hundreds of donated aluminum beverage cans – Budweiser, Coca-Cola, Moxie and many other brands.

“The program raised around $70,000 for kids in its lifetime,” Grady said. “It’s at an end now, but we’ll gladly offer advice and guidance to any group that wants to start a similar program.”

Courtesy photo by LEE GILMORE Exchange Club of Merrimack past-president Ted Parmenter, can recycling chairman, and John Grady, charter member, display at the Merrimack Library the debris that remains after the purposeful demolition by them of one of the club’s four “Cans for Kids” recycling sheds, sturdy wooden structures hand-built by volunteers in 1988 that were located around town for the convenient donation of aluminum beverage cans that funded numerous club programs.

The “Cans for Kids” units were located at the Merrimack Library, 470 Daniel Webster Highway; the Merrimack Fire Department, 196 Naticook Road; the Merrimack Department of Public Works, 80 Turkey Hill Road; and Vault Motor Storage, 580 Daniel Webster Highway.

Now, the beverage cans will be taken to the Merrimack Transfer Station, 1 Fearon Road, to mingle-mangle with other single-stream discards including paper, glass bottles, soup cans, cardboard and dozens more approved for disposal.

Grady, a former principal in Nashua, pried off some planks with a crowbar during demolition of the final repository, one located near the entrance of Vault Motor Storage. Parmenter, a Merrimack resident for some 39 years, swung a mallet at a beam securing the unit’s roof to its four walls. Member Dominic D’Antoni, elsewhere that day, was credited by both men for his frequent help with the program.

Grady laments the passing of “Cans for Kids” as due to dwindling numbers of able-bodied club members and the withdrawal for use elsewhere of a loaned trailer owned by Manchester Recycling Corp, a private company that would weigh the cans and credit the club’s account. An online check at presstime noted payouts of 45-50 cents per pound for aluminum beverage cans.

“We actually started this recycling program here in the late ʼ80s – 1988,” Grady said. “Before that, there was no recycling program at all in the town. The town manager at that time, Dan Ayer, was very supportive of our efforts.”

Correspondent photo by LORETTA JACKSON Charter member John Grady, left, and Ted Parmenter, can recycling chairman for the Exchange Club of Merrimack, dislodge wooden planks from the last of four volunteer-built recycling units, repositories used for 29 years in the club’s “Cans for Kids” program, now ended after generating over time some $70,000 for club programs.

Grady said he and Parmenter are now the “young kids” of the club, as other members have aged and relocated to warmer climes. Few remaining are as vigorous as Grady, Parmenter and D’Antoni. The “Cans for Kids” job was a hefty one for any volunteer.

The job entailed monitoring the volume of cans accumulating at the four sites. It included emptying filled bins at each location into the back of a volunteer’s pickup truck. It meant driving the load to the storage trailer awaiting at Vault Motor Storage. And unloading the cans into the trailer. Shovels, buckets and elbow grease prevailed.

“We appreciate the support of the recycling company over the years,” Grady said. “We thank the Town of Merrimack, the DPW and everybody who brought us their cans. It was a community effort.”

Grady said the “Cans for Kids” program was an avenue over the years to many benefits for the town’s youth and families.

“Most recently, we’ve been making donations to the three food pantries in town – St. John Neumann, St. James United Methodist Church and Riverside Christian Church,” Grady said. “We’ve done a lot of good.”

Correspondent photo by LORETTA JACKSON A bounty of aluminum beverage cans donated to the Exchange Club of Merrimack’s “Cans for Kids” program await a trip to Manchester Recycling, a local firm that purchased the aluminum recyclables and thus generated funds for club programs, efforts that included scholarships, food pantry donations, citizen recognition programs and many other projects before the program ended.

Grady and his wife, Brenda, along with other club members have in past years provided scholarships for outstanding high school seniors. They instituted a “Book of Golden Deeds Award,” which honored local unsung heroes and a “Student of the Month” program. Other funds assisted children removed from homes where child abuse was an issue.

It took considerable effort for Grady and Parmenter to dismantle the four units. Their prying and hammering was a tribute to the craftsmanship that resisted rain, snow and sun for 29 years.

Each wooden structure measured around 4-feet wide by 8-feet long and included tall, walled sides and an angled roof that sheltered a pair of sturdy plastic bins deep enough to each hold about 50 pounds of cans. The bins were donated long ago by Anheuser Busch and businesses including Irish Insurance and Reeds Ferry Lumber pitched in building materials, although forerunners of the current sheds were built of wood from old pallets and other discards.

Lee Gilmore, a staffer at the Merrimack Library, looked out at an earlier demolition alongside the parking lot there. She said the big wooden “Cans for Kids” recycling shed already was in place when she hired on some 20 years ago.

“It’s the end of an era,” Gilmore said.

Correspondent photo by LORETTA JACKSON John Grady, charter member of the Exchange Club of Merrimack, left, and Ted Parmenter, the club’s can recycling chairman and a past president, load a final cargo of hundreds of aluminum beverage cans into a trailer for transport to a Manchester recycling facility whose purchases of the cans by the pound generated funds for the club’s “Cans for Kids” program, recently ended.

Correspondent photo by LORETTA JACKSON Ted Parmenter, can recycling chairman for the “Cans for Kids” program, pries loose a board during the demolition of the last of four recycling structures that were a part of an aluminum beverage can recycling program operated for 29 years until its close this month by the Exchange Club of Merrimack, a group founded in 1984 by eight locals intent on engaging in projects of benefit to the community and its youth.