NYC Canners And Others Came Together To Demand Funding For Those Most Impacted By COVID

June 18, 2021

Yesterday, Sure We Can (SWC), a nonprofit serving low-income recyclers who collect bottles and cans from the streets of the city gathered with elected officials, community leaders, and advocates.

They came together to demand the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to release $2.3 million in capital funding that would keep their doors open and help bring access to critical resources and services to canners and their families who have been disproportionately hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“With a single action, one-time funding, the city can facilitate our purchasing of our lot, allowing this unique space to continue to exist, and for the canners to continue their work in possession of what we all know to be essential to a free life: dignity, security, and stability,” said Ryan Castalia, Sure We Can Executive Director.

“Many of us, like so many in life, have problems that no doctor has been able to cure, but recycling in the streets has turned into a kind of psychological therapy,” said Rene del Carmen, Canner and Sure We Can Manager of Redemption Services. “One feels more useful to our society. We do not manufacture money or gold but the work that we do is, nonetheless, important – we reduce litter and help keep the city clean.”

“Sure We Can is a unique community space in the Brooklyn community,” said Josefa Marín, Canner and Board Member of Sure We Can. “My husband and I earn our income from recycling, and it is Sure We Can that makes it possible. Without this center, we would be without a very valuable resource.”

“I am a canner, and I am a part of the board of directors here at Sure We Can. I love my job as a recycler because this is how I help the environment and contribute to cleaning the city,” said Josefa Santana, Canner and Board Member of Sure We Can. “There are many people in the community who need support to be able to survive and here is where these people can go to find their pay.”

“As a small organization, built from the ground up by canners determined to transform their situation, we are asking the city for help,” said Chicago Crosby, Canner, and co-Chair of the Sure We Can Board. “Will the New York City government allow us to collapse simply for the sake of bureaucratic red tape?”

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“Canners are environmental agents who contribute to New York City’s zero-waste goals. Through their work they divert recyclable materials that would otherwise end up in landfills, they beautify public spaces and they create their own jobs in the process,” said Jenna Harvey, WIEGO Global Focal Cities Coordinator. “NYC canners are not alone – there are millions of canners globally who make invaluable social and environmental contributions to cities, but they are not recognized or supported for the work that they do. New York City should show progressive leadership and act in a way that is both smart and just in support of canners. Supporting Sure We Can to remain in their redemption center and community space is an investment in the canning community which will reap benefits for the city as a whole.”

SWC faces eviction at any moment and securing SWC’s site – located in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn – will not only fulfill the City’s goals of preserving industrial-manufacturing land in the North Brooklyn Industrial Business Zone (IBZ) but bring much-needed resources to hundreds of canners. In addition, the property is located in an NYS-designated disadvantaged community and environmental justice area.

Elected officials showed their support for the organization, which is the only non-profit redemption center across the boroughs.

“Sure We Can provide a service like no other nonprofit in New York City and deserves to keep their doors open especially during these challenging times of crisis in our city,” said Council Member (D-25) Daniel Dromm. “Now more than ever New Yorkers need access to organizations like Sure We Can that provide critical resources and support to struggling New Yorkers.”

“Now more than ever, Sure We Can need to keep their doors open,” said Council Member (D-37) Darma V. Diaz. “It is shameful that the city will not allow us to make this space a permanent resource for hundreds of canners and their families who have been severely impacted by Covid-19 and need access to services.”

“So often, during times of crisis our most vulnerable communities get left behind and that is exactly what we are witnessing here today,” said Council Member (D-34) Antonio Reynoso. “Today we are demanding EDC and OMB to prioritize New Yorkers struggling to make ends meet by supporting community-based organizations like Sure We Can that build sustainability from the grassroots.”

The organization received a notice from its landlord in February 2020 demanding that SWC vacate its 14,000 square foot lot in the IBZ, if it cannot come up with the $2.6 million purchase price.

The organization received a notice from its landlord in February 2020 demanding that SWC vacate its 14,000 square foot lot in the IBZ, if it cannot come up with the $2.6 million purchase price.

Each year, SWC diverts approximately 12 million bottles and cans from New York City’s waste stream, distributing over $700,000 to more than 900 canners, who are overwhelmingly low-income immigrants and people of color, some of whom struggle with homelessness and disability.

SWC also conducts urban gardening, education, and outreach, composting, and single-use plastic upcycling.

Photo credit: Sure We Can Executive Director Ryan Castalia leads the action in front of EDC Headquarters with canners and community leaders and advocates.

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