Have you ever wondered what happens to the barely touched bottle of shampoo left behind in a hotel room?
In Chicago, that perfectly usable product is likely to make its way to a homeless shelter or another nonprofit helping those in need, thanks to the efforts of Jud Kinnucan.
In 2009, Kinnucan founded Bin Donated, a nonprofit organization that seeks to link the excess inventories of city businesses – usable items that would otherwise be discarded – with the charities that can put such items to immediate use.
“I look at large companies, such as hotels and businesses, that have large amounts of the same thing they do not need,” says Mr. Kinnucan. Recently a company was going to throw away cases of unused paper so they wouldn’t have to move them to a new location. “Instead of throwing it away, they called me, and I went to pick it up,” he says.
Kinnucan networks with some 150 charities in Chicago, regularly soliciting their product and donation needs, and collecting items from businesses to fill those needs.
And he does so using repurposed 55-gallon bins – former candy syrup barrels that have been donated to the cause – that are placed in partner locations to collect goods.
Bins can be placed for long- or short-term periods, in locations ranging from dental offices to hotels, apartment buildings to sporting events, or private parties.
Common items collected include hygiene products – such as those gathered from hotels – as well as books, pet and baby supplies, school supplies, winter coats, and toys for the holiday season.
The goal is twofold – while saving usable items from making their way to landfills, Bin Donated works to serve organizations that help homeless and transient communities, programs focusing on education and literacy, schools, animal shelters, and American troops and their families, among others.
“I am really looking for anything and everything, and finding a different use for it,” Kinnucan says.
Partially used bottles of shampoo, or even sheets with a small tear, might be discarded in bulk by a hotel or another business, but they could also be redirected to someone in need.
Kinnucan had been working for a recruiting firm when he decided that he wanted a change.
“Frankly, I just wanted to do more with my life,” he says. “I enjoyed connecting people to new jobs because it changed their life, but I just didn’t feel like I was doing enough, and that I could do more.”
So he quit his job, and a few weeks later he hatched the concept behind Bin Donated.
The idea was in part inspired by his six-week stint in 2006 driving a van for a local food bank.
“I got to see different parts of Chicago, and how in need many people were in the city,” he says. “That, and just life experiences, just brought me to the point where I wanted to do something more.”
For two-and-a-half years, Kinnucan ran Bin Donated full time without taking a pay check. But his own economic situation has demanded that he return to work. So, although he works a job full time now, he operates Bin Donated in the evenings and on weekends.
And for the most part, he runs things on his own.
“It can get very big, very quickly if I wanted it to, but I don’t have the time or money to do it,” he admits, though he adds that the idea has already spurred action from others who have heard about it.
Those include a woman in Australia and a teenager in Indiana, two of many who have been inspired by his concept and are trying to start similar initiatives in their own communities.
“What I am doing is pretty basic,” he says, adding that anyone can do something similar if they have the time, dedication, and resources to do so.
To date, Kinnucan’s hard work has led to more than 150,000 pounds of in-kind donations, valued at over $1 million, being provided to Chicago-area charities.
“Everything is local,” he says. “If people look hard enough, there is need in someone’s back yard.”
One of the benefits of helping local charities, he says, is the immediacy of the help that the items yield.
While shipping items abroad or across the country delays distribution, driving a bin of hygiene products to a local shelter down the street allows for those items to be given to those in need even the same day.
“You don’t know how things you do for people affect them,” he says, “The thing is – do what you can do.”
• To learn more about or support Bin Donated, visit www.bindonated.org.