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After North Park Recycling Center Is Damaged, A Fan Launches Fundraiser To Help Nonprofit Recoup Losses

City officials denied an August cleanup at the independently run recycling center caused any damage, but the longtime founder says he is now thousands of dollars in the hole.

Resource Center founder and president Ken Dunn.
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NORTH PARK — A fan of a North Park recycling station is helping its founder recoup his losses after he said city crews damaged the center and removed thousands of dollars worth of tools in August.

North Park’s Village Recycling Station, 5801 N. Pulaski Road, is an independently operated recycling station managed by Resource Center for more than 40 years, said the nonprofit’s founder and president Ken Dunn.

Residents haul their recyclables to the area on the side of the parking lot near the gymnastics center and the nature center. Neighbors self-sort items into large, often-overflowing metal containers, separating plastics from aluminum, glass, metal, paper and cardboard. Makeshift signs and volunteers on site help keep things orderly and enforce the rules: No dumping, no furniture, electronics or styrofoam, newspapers go here, boxes must be flattened and stacked there.

In a city that struggles with a perpetually low recycling rate, Dunn and his volunteers pledge over 90 percent of the items they pick up will actually be recycled.

City crews came by the station in August for a cleanup after receiving complaints about it, the Tribune reported in October.

Dunn said crews removed or damaged about $5,000 worth of recycling equipment and tools he had acquired over the years. Officials with the city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation denied that, saying nothing was damaged or stolen during the cleanup.

Overall, the damage cost $20,000, Dunn told the Tribune at the time.

“We always try to keep some money reserves for any crisis that comes up,” Dunn said. “But we ended up spending all of our reserve funds there.” 

West Town resident Marjorie Isaacson launched a GoFundMe campaign last week to help Dunn recover some of the money and stack up funding for a rainy day. She’s seeking to raise $10,000.

Isaacson has used Dunn’s services for years and was worried about the nonprofit’s financial future after what happened at the North Park location, she said. 

“Nonprofits like this can sometimes be really hand to mouth,” she said. “So this is all for him.”

The fundraiser couldn’t come at a better time, Dunn said. 

The Resource Center uses a fleet of six trucks between 20 and 30 years old that require regular maintenance. One currently needs new fuel injectors which will cost about $3,000 to replace, Dunn said.

“After 20 years in service trucks end up needing some part or another every month it seems,” he said.

Dunn has been renting a U-Haul truck to replace the one in his fleet that needs repairs but that’s also eating into his financial overhead, he said. The rental doesn’t have the hydraulic lift his own trucks regularly use, he said. 

“Not having a financial reserve has almost totally shut us down from doing our normal work,” he said. 

Dunn is a proponent of “source separation” which entails sorting out reusable materials like paper, glass and cans to prevent contamination and ensure something can be recycled. He runs three drop-off locations across the city, including the one at North Park. 

The 80-year-old long has been praised as one of the city’s greenest residents, converting vacant lots into gardens and urban farms since 1968.

Credit: Provided
The North Park Village Recycling Station at 5801 N. Pulaski Road in August 2022.

After the clash with the city, Dunn said he reached out to Ald. Samantha Nugent’s (39th) office to ask how a similar incident could be avoided in the future.

“I contacted Ald. Nugent and she gave me the phone numbers of two volunteers that are specially assigned to the project of working through that damage and protecting it so it never happens again,” Dunn said. “But they never returned my calls.” 

Asked about the issue, Nugent said in an email her ward office has worked with Dunn to ensure the recycling center is a clean and safe place for neighbors to drop off recyclable household items.

“We continue to work with Mr. Dunn and the City on a use agreement for this city-owned land,” she said in the statement.

In addition to asking supporters to donate to the fundraiser, Dunn is asking fans of the recycling program to reach out to Nugent’s office to raise the issue. 

“I just don’t I don’t understand her silence on this. I really don’t,” Isaacson said.

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