A million cans and counting




By Gene Alexander, volunteer and fundraiser for Franklin County Habitat

Editor’s note: Gene Alexander, 76, is a retired school principal who organized an aluminum-can recycling program in his hometown of Benton, Illinois. Proceeds go to Habitat’s local affiliate in Franklin County. Alexander recently celebrated the 1 millionth can recycled.

The recycling drive is a community project that’s been in effect for nearly a dozen years now. We have several collection points around town for people to use. Clubs, churches and businesses also contribute. More than $20,000 has been raised from the sale of the recycled cans to benefit a family that needs a home to call their own.

The recycling program is another way I can support Habitat. In 1994, I donated an empty lot next door to me for our town’s first Habitat house. A few years later, my neighbor on the other side relocated. I bought her house and decided to donate it to Habitat to rehab. Now, I have a Habitat house on either side of me and very good neighbors.

I am best known for recycling a million cans, but I try to help in other ways, too. I have not been a builder, but have done lots of lawn care at our Habitat projects. I also have people sign boards for the next Habitat house. They donate to sign the boards that will be used in the house, ranging from 25 cents that children at schools give to $20 bills from adults.

For the past 27 years, I have read to kids at school in the mornings. I also paint big, colorful U.S. maps on the playgrounds at schools. I’ve done 177 of those at schools all over southern Illinois.

I like to do things to make learning fun, or just to make life a little smoother for people. I retired in 1990, but found retirement boring. My doctor says, “Mr. A, whatever you’re doing, don’t change a thing.”