Your View: Guest Column - Spend a minute with the ‘can people’

Apr. 14, 2013 @ 05:16 PM

BY SANDRA FLANNERY

You see them all the time. On the streets, in ditches, walking through fields and parking lots.
Going through dumpsters and garbage cans. They are the can people.
Most people don’t think much about them; some don’t think much of them. But do you ever wonder why they walk the streets and alleys of our city searching for cans that have been discarded as trash?
Some do it just to make a little extra money. And some may make a full-time job of it. I never thought much about them except to give them a bag of cans once in a while. Maybe I’d take them to the recycling place when they needed to go.
But since I became one I have gotten to know some of them. They all have a story that is as different as they are. Like John who comes by at the end of the month to pick up what I have collected when his money runs short. He lost his job in 2009 and got shut out of the job market by age. His wife needs medicine and sometimes cans are the only way to get it.
Then there’s James, who fought for us in Vietnam but now gets by on odd jobs and cans. Then there’s Tamar, who wants a bag to take to the recycling place when his grandfather goes so he can buy him some candy or toys. Then there’s me. I don’t keep the cans; I collect and give them to whichever one comes by and needs them.
But in a way they have saved my life. In 2011, I lost my oldest son. Since that day me and my little dog have walked hundreds of miles. We have picked up several loads of cans. And we’ve met a lot of interesting people. And they have helped me keep my sanity.
So the next time you see one, please don’t dismiss them as ne’er-do-wells and worse. Offer them a smile and maybe even a thank you for picking up trash.
And if you have a few minutes, maybe engage in a little conversation. You just might learn something.

Sandra Flannery lives in High Point.