Ruth Libby is the founder of the nonprofit Ruth’s Reusable Resources (3R’s). 3R’s started 21 years ago with a note from her son's kindergarten teacher requesting household items such as egg cartons, meat trays and juice can lids, for use in craft projects. Ruth is a leader and a saver, so she began collecting these items from friends and storing them in her basement. Soon she expanded to collect office supplies, furniture and computers that were unwanted surplus from businesses, and made them available to schools. As she grew, she moved her operation to unused school space in Scarborough, Maine. Then later, thanks to UNUM, TD Bank and a grant from the State of Maine, she moved to a 28,000 square foot warehouse in Portland, Maine.
Ruth’s mission is to ensure that all students have the basic tools for learning by transferring surplus business supplies into the hands of school children through teachers. Many children in Maine attend school without the necessary tools, while at the same time businesses in Maine often dispose of these items. 3R’s bridges the gap by transferring unwanted business supplies to students. It’s good for kids, education, the environment, and businesses.
3R's has schools pay a small membership fee, which allows the teachers to shop for free at 3R’s from August to June. In the 2014/2015 school year $4,337,297 worth of supplies were distributed to schools.
Ruth also tries to help the neediest students. Over the last ten years, 3R’s has used volunteers to fill approximately 21,000 backpacks with school supplies. These go to low income students so that they can start the school year with at least the basic tools necessary to succeed in school.
In addition, Ruth believes strongly in reusing, re-purposing and recycling. For example, damaged three-ring binders from businesses are completely taken apart. The metal rings go into metal recycling. The cardboard inside the vinyl cover is put in the teachers’ store to be used in projects. The vinyl covering is then stuck to magnetic sheets and cut into letter shapes to become magnetic letters for literacy learning kits. Nothing goes to waste!
Most importantly, it is Ruth’s leadership that keeps everything together. 3R’s runs on a shoestring budget. The supplies received are free, but the warehouse mortgage, heating and shipping are not. However Ruth’s leadership and drive have somehow allowed her to keep 3R’s going, and enabled her to give away over $57 million of surplus supplies to schools.
All of this would not be possible without Ruth’s numerous volunteers. There is always sorting, repackaging, and stocking of shelves to be done. Under Ruth’s enthusiastic direction 3R’s attracts thousands of volunteers to accomplish this. The volunteers come from church groups, civic groups, businesses, disabled and special needs students/adults, retired teachers, court ordered community service, school students and many others. The common attraction that volunteers talk about is Ruth’s passion and the warm thank you hugs that she gives. She is definitely an inspirational person.