As the saying goes, one’s man trash is another man’s treasure. But in Johnston County, one man’s trash, once recycled, helps another man feed the hungry.
Dan Bowen, 66, lives near Benson and attends Little Creek Seventh-day Adventist Fellowship near Clayton. In early 2013, he was struck with an idea: Recycle aluminum cans to raise money for the poor.
“It just seemed like the Lord laid it on my heart to do something,” he said.
So Bowen began asking neighbors, friends and family for cans. Two neighbors were supportive, giving him cans that had piled up at their homes.
But after the first month, not many others had donated, and Bowen was feeling down. He then announced at church that he had raised $400 so far, and donations took off, Bowen said.
Since March, he’s raised about $2,500 from recycling, and now he picks up almost anything people are willing to give: old washers, fans, lawn mowers and even stoves.
His most bizarre haul was the side of a car from a neighbor, a mechanic who restores cars. Four alcoholics have even been saving their cans for him, Bowen said, though one recently died. “So he’s up in heaven watching over us,” he said.
Bowen drives around the Triangle in his pickup truck to get the metal, often stopping on the side of the road if he sees something useful.
He strips the metal out of the items and sells the material by the pound. Recently, he’s been getting 58 cents per pound of aluminum, eight to 10 cents per pound for tin and steel and $3.19 per pound of copper. The average truckload raises about $80, he said.
Bowen takes 30 percent of the money to reimburse gas and some of his time; the project has become almost a full-time job, he said, and he’s almost been fired from his job as an insurance salesman.
Bowen retired after working as a parole officer in Johnston County for 14 years and as a correctional officer in central prison in Raleigh for 14 years before that, he said.
The other 70 percent of the money goes into a bank account at his church, where a small group of people decides how to give it out. Sometimes that means buying groceries for a family in need or giving someone an Aldi’s gift card.
Bowen encourages people to buy healthy food, especially fruits, vegetables and nuts.
“We don’t want it to be permanent,” he said. “We just want to meet the need as it is.”
Helping people in lean times is important to Bowen because of his own experiences, he said. Bowen said he came to the area from Chicago in 1982 and was out of work for more than a year. During that time, only one family ever brought him food. That’s why Bowen wants to focus on making sure those in his church get help when they need it.
“Jesus fed people before he talked to them, and after he talked to them, he didn’t send them away hungry,” Bowen said.
Lee Griffin is a friend and elder at Little Creek Fellowship, where Bowen has placed a large barrel where people can leave unwanted metal.
Griffin said Bowen’s project has been wonderful. “It’s just snowballed,” he said. “We love it and we’re all on board at Little Creek.”
Griffin and Bowen hope other churches will start similar programs. “I think our priority right now has been inside the church, seeing who needs stuff inside the church and building up the fund,” Griffin said. “(But) we want to reach out into the community for needs for food.”
Bowen’s wife, Evelyn, thought it was a good idea when her husband first told her, but she didn’t expect the messy back yard, often littered with the remains of appliances.
She also hopes other people and churches will get involved. “Because that’s what Christ is like, that we’re supposed to feed the hungry,” she said.