Its tagline is "creative recycling." And, at The Scrap Box in Ann Arbor, it's instantly apparent why. This family creativity destination is home to all types of second-had bits and materials just begging to be transformed into new inventions.
From remnants and samples to overruns and seconds, there's a vast variety of scrap materials – or "good junk," as director Karen Ensminger prefers to call it – that can be reused for crafts, school projects and other original ideas.
With it, kids concoct a bevy of projects, from feathered chickadees to quirky robots, all while learning about reusing or repurposing items that are normally destined for a garbage can.
"We're saving a lot of stuff from going to a landfill – or at least postponing a lot of stuff," Ensminger says.
Whether it's a science experiment, learning game or materials for a home repair job, the result is the same: helping the earth.
"Factories have lower Dumpster costs," as The Scrap Box website puts it, "and teachers have unique, low-cost materials" to use with their students.
Imaginations at work
In addition to teaching the importance of recycling, Ensminger says one of the main goals of her nonprofit is to foster creativity in children.
"It represents a way to help kids be more creative with materials they don't get at a regular store," Ensminger said. "They're free to use their imagination."
Tucked away in an industrial complex, the 9,000-square-foot building looks like a small warehouse filled with bins of foam, plastic parts and other "leftovers." But once inside, the colorful artwork and crafts that adorn the walls and hang from the ceiling yield a bright and fun atmosphere – and provide plenty of inspiration for kids and adults alike.
Customers can grab a paper bag – $6.50 for a large bag and $4 for a small – and fill it with whatever goodies get their creative juices flowing. With a little imagination, for example, leftover pieces of foam become puppets, and old CDs converted to coasters. Or, gather up paper and stickers to make a card for just about any occasion.
A fun destination
Ensminger created the shop, which is mostly run by volunteers, in 1985. In addition to the many parents and teachers who frequent the store, school groups, Scout troops and other children take part in various craft workshops.
Over the years, Marlene Lloyd, a teacher from Plymouth Cooperative Preschool, has enjoyed bringing her classes – and her own family – to The Scrap Box for fieldtrips.
"This is such a wonderful, creative atmosphere," says Lloyd, herself a mom and grandmother of 13.
Birthday parties are popular, too. Choose from a child-centered shindig or a family option. For a goody bag? Each kid gets their own little stash of scraps to take home, which they pick from the "bulk room."
Donations and volunteers
The Scrap Box gets much of its inventory from local businesses and factories, but also accepts individual donations of fabric, seashells, buttons and more.
Volunteers are always needed and welcome. The support staff has ranged from local residents to students from the nearby University of Michigan. They help stock shelves, prepare items for sale and more.
And, best of all, they get to witness kids transforming trash into gold. Just browsing the store, you'll hear little customers shout, "Mom, look at this!" as another piece of "good junk" goes into a shopping bag rather than the garbage.
The inventory at the Scrap Box is always changing. Got stuff you think could have a second life? Household donations are welcome, too. Check out The Scrap Box "Wish List" to see what's needed – and keep the cycle going.