Every now and then we’ve heard the rumors: there are certain volunteers at the Wellesley Recycling and Disposal Facility’s Reusables Area who are practically making a living by scooping up and spiriting away all the good stuff that gets dropped off before anyone else can get to it, and selling it on Craigslist, Ebay, and at flea markets. Recently, the hubbub has ratcheted up a notch with a casual comment on a closed Facebook page: “Anyone else notice that there never seems to be anything decent at the dump’s Take-and-Leave anymore?” And the conversation and the accusations were off and running.
One Swellesley reader wrote to us recently that he has stopped bringing stuff to the Take & Leave area because he doesn’t think things he was bringing were getting to people who really needed it. Simmering tensions have bubbled to the point where some residents have created a Facebook group of their own aimed at setting up their own Reusables Area of sorts for people fed up with the status quo. That this new FB group, that would allow members to gain a modicum of control over where their goodies go, had to be hidden almost as soon as it went live is a commentary about how badly people want Wellesley’s cast-offs. The organizer told us “Yes, we created a group but we are finding that people who have no connection to Wellesley are trying to join. So we have hidden the group for now until we have a chance to vet all the requests.”
It isn’t pretty, is it? The Swellesley Report has been contacted numerous times in recent weeks with stories about long-running feuds, and entitlement, of treasures and greed, and of a growing climate of frustration that at times pits some residents against certain volunteers who, it is said, make a living off of the items dropped off.
About this possibility, one of the calmer FB commenters said, “That upsets me, because if I wanted to sell something I’d do it myself… People assume their items are being donated / given a good home, not sold!”
Well, you know what they say about making assumptions. The town’s policy about such commerce is clear, and that policy is one of hands-off. In a nutshell, all volunteers must undergo training, which lays out the rules of the dump, and sign a letter of agreement, as well as a waiver. The rules clearly state that “Shopping on duty is not allowed. A volunteer who is on duty and wearing their safety vest is not allowed to shop. Volunteers are allowed to shop before and after their shift with the same rights as other Wellesley residents.”
…with the same rights as other Wellesley residents.
What this means is that although your average Wellesley resident who is dropping off something as useless as a jigsaw puzzle with only one piece missing or as generous as the two beautiful Brown Jordan outdoor chairs I picked up last summer may assume that the notion of filthy lucre passing hands doesn’t enter into the Reusables Area, they would be wrong. Dump volunteers, some there for altruistic reasons, some there for the social aspect, many there for the gleanings, do not operate under more restrictive rules than the non-volunteer Wellesley residents.
Put simply, anytime I want I can take those two Brown Jordan chairs currently gracing my back yard (they each go for about $500 new, according to the company’s website), post them on eBay (where I could sell them for about $250 each), and pocket the money.
And yet, it rankles many that some dump volunteers are making tax-free cash. Superintendent Jeff Azano-Brown isn’t deaf to the complaints. “I think there needs to be a little soul searching about how that area should be at its best. If it’s true that people are making a business out of that area, yes it bothers me. The true purpose of the area is to keep items out of a landfill. That is the true spirit of the area. 95% of the effort is really productive and helpful and achieves the spirit of the area. The positive aspects of what goes on over there are so important.”
Important, and numerous. One thing residents, volunteers, and the town can agree on is that due to the Reusables Area, thousands of items are kept out of the landfill. In addition, it may not be common knowledge that what can appear to be volunteers hiding away the good stuff in their shed is in actuality an example of them setting aside items for charitable agencies and organizations. Volunteer Barbara Faubert says, “We get requests from lots of agencies and organizations, and we always help out. Nursing homes. Homeless families. Nobody knows about that. We help out two Alzheimers Centers, one in Wellesley and one in Needham. Family Promise. Individuals who are down on their luck. There are some very needy people in Wellesley. We got a request that a single mom with three young kids who are just getting out of a shelter need items, and yes, we take the items as they come in and bring them to the shed to set aside for them.”
Still, Faubert concedes, if not declares, that “This place runs on greed.”
That simmering undercurrent of greed is what makes people refer to some of the more aggressive volunteers as vultures. People complain about volunteers who try to unload their cars and of cars that are parked at the reusables area without a dump sticker (that particular complaint should subside once the dump puts the license-recognition program in place in the fall). Regulations state that all volunteers must be Wellesley residents.
Priscilla Messing, Chairperson of the Friends of Recycling group, doesn’t much see what being a Wellesley resident has to do with anything when it comes to volunteering. She doesn’t like the fact that there is profiteering involved by some, and would prefer a model of pure volunteerism to prevail, one that doesn’t run on greed or ulterior motives. Messing realizes that her ideals aren’t shared by many.
Others remember what they call the bad old days, saying “Before there were volunteers, there were fist fights over stuff, so the volunteers are earning a living, but also providing a service. Those guys often offer to help load cars and even to truck big items to people’s houses…They don’t get paid you know. I find them to be kind and helpful and if you tell them what you need they help you find it or will help you offload the most useless junk without any complaints or without embarrassing you.”
Others point out that if certain volunteers didn’t snag items and resell them, then someone else would. That’s a good point. Let’s say the volunteers were given more onerous restrictions on the items than the rest of the town’s residents. It’s not hard to imagine that they would all simply quit and hang out at the dump all day anyway, as private citizens, not sorting, not organizing, not sweeping, not fetching and carrying. Just grabbing.
I’m a regular at the dump and have heard some hilarious exchanges between volunteers and shoppers who treat them like department store personnel. Shoppers will hold up a set of curtains and ask if perhaps three more sets, with the hardware and some sheers, will be coming in soon. They’ll ask if that gas grill over there works. Seriously? If the volunteers were allowed to fire up gas grills, they’d be selling burgers out there.
I’ve also seen multiple requests answered with immediate assistance:
Can you help me carry this? (Thank you again to the volunteer who helped me do just that recently.)
Can I leave my name on this and pick it up later?
Will you help me unload my car?
And let’s not forget that you can bring anything to the dump and never get junk-shamed.
Here’s a thought. If the stuff at the dump is really as valuable as is said, perhaps it’s time for an additional town employee. Let’s call that employee the Ebay Czar. The job description: to review every item that comes into the Reusables Area, and set aside those that the Czar deems eligible to sell on Ebay or wherever. All monies would go to the Town of Wellesley’s general fund, just like the money the dump makes from selling recyclables. If the town is literally leaving as much money on those Give-and-Take tables as people claim, the Ebay Czar could handily cover his or her salary and then some. In a big way, right?
Former Superintendent Gordon Martin always had a dream that one year the dump would turn over a cool million to the general fund (it turned over $619,000 in 2015). Perhaps the Ebay Czar could help close the gap, if the treasure could be unburied and unloaded in just the right way.
In writing this, and thinking about the spirit of the Give and Take area, I was reminded of a brief exchange I had recently with current Superintendent Azano-Brown. When I asked if he ever went over to shop the Give and Take, he said he did stop by every now and then to see if he could pick something up for the RDF offices. “Just the offices?” I asked, a little surprised. “Not for home?”
“Oh, no. Not for home,” he said. “I’m not a Wellesley resident.”
In a rare opportunity for garden lovers and general snoops such as myself who always wondered what it would be like to tour the exterior of Wellesley’s most iconic property, the Hunnewell Estate on Rte. 16 in Wellesley was opened to the public this past weekend through the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program. Horatio Hollis Hunnewell, who made his millions in railroads, mining, real estate, and other business ventures, built the house in the early 1850s as the country estate for his wife, Isabella Pratt Welles, for whom the town is named, and their nine children. Mr. Hunnewell was also an extraordinary horticulturist, credited with — among other things — popularizing rhododendrons in the United States.
I was salivating over the idea of finally getting close-up pictures of the expansive property, but when I emailed ahead to request permission, I was told politely but firmly that bloggers were not welcome to ply their trade, photographically speaking, on Garden Conservancy day. Devastated, I was left to envy the ocean tide-like pull and amazing connections that allowed blogger Patrice Todisco unfettered access earlier this summer.
Ah well, with ticket in hand and camera banished to my pocket, I toured the estate. The biggest impression as I wandered around was the sheer size of the property. It’s rare enough in Wellesley to visit a home that sits on a half-acre of land. Touring the over 32-acre lot made this cottage dweller practically agoraphobic. It was just so open and country estate-like and un-suburban, what with its multiple sheds, barns, garages, greenhouses, a tennis court, and a lakeside pavilion, some of which are in full use, some not. In one greenhouse grew a bumper crop of peaches and grapes, neatly espaliered and lovingly tended. Next to that was what once must have been an amazingly productive vegetable garden, now weed-choked and waiting for someone with the time and inclination to take it on as a project. The place isn’t manicured within an inch of its life — that would take five or more full-time gardeners. If I’ve learned anything from watching Downton Abbey, it’s that wars, inflation, and increased workers’ opportunity have conspired to force country houses everywhere to make do with a staff that is loyal, but bare-bones. Indeed, the place is a mixed metaphor of impressive scale and ragged beauty, of local gentry and rough edges, of romance and benign neglect.
Of course, the topiary garden was there in all its clipped glory, and it was interesting to view it looking down from the top of the 75-foot embankment rather than from the Lake Waban path looking up. And I always wanted to stand in that Italianate structure on the hill overlooking the lake. Well, now I have.
As I toured the pinery and the azalea garden, and strolled the crushed-stone paths appreciating the maturity and sheer variety of trees I thought, what a treat to walk around here. Then anxiety hit. What if it all gets sold and subdivided? What if all these beautiful, rare trees get chopped down to make way for “progress” of some sort? Nope, not happening. In keeping with its over 150-year history of philanthropy, the family has looked ahead, far ahead, and has placed the property under conservation restrictions, primarily with The Trustees of Reservations. This foresight protects the farmland, gardens, landscapes, vistas, and natural native landscapes from development. In fact, in 1988 the property was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Wandering through the pinery and the azalea garden, and gazing at Lake Waban, I sighed over the no pictures edict, but as a rules-follower at heart, I obeyed. However, when I described one of the many beautiful tableaux to Swellesley’s sketch artist, he came up with a pretty fair likeness of a statue in the conservatory:
As my car crunched down the gravel driveway and turned onto Washington Street, I looked back at my usual view of the place. Somehow, amid all the changes that are happening in every neighborhood in Wellesley, there old Horace Hunnewell’s estate stands, same as ever. If he came back, he might hardly recognize the town. Until he got home, that is.
Wellesley fisherman extraordinaire Zeb Jacoby shared these photos from Rockridge Pond, where he reports the aquatic weed harvester was cleaning up the water — well, what there is of it during this dry summer.
The Wellesley RDF will accept latex and oil-based alkyd paint on Saturday for recycling, no matter how ugly the color. A reminder that if you have turpentine, other solvents, or unmarked containers, save those for Household Hazardous Wast Products Collection Day, in the spring.
Also of note, it’s time to fill out the paperwork to get your shiny new dump sticker. You can download an application by clicking here. All Wellesley residents must display a new Permit Sticker on their windshield in order to use the facility. If you have any questions about the new Permit Stickers please call the RDF at 781-235-7600 x3345.
The Natural Resources Commission tells us that state Attorney General Maura Healey has signed the Plastic Bag Reduction bylaw (Town Meeting Article 33), which for stores 3,500 sq. feet or larger goes into effect on Jan. 25, 2017, six months after it was signed. For smaller stores, the enactment date to reduce distribution of single-use plastic bags is April 12, 2017. The bylaw does not impact distribution of produce bags.
The aim of the new bylaw is to reduce litter and protect the environment.
Everyone knows that of the leafy green suburbs outside of Boston, Wellesley is the leafiest and greenest of them all. It’s a place where lawns are tended, gardens are tidy and, after the landscapers still their leaf blowers and lawn mowers and rumble out of town until the next day, a feeling of peacefulness and order prevails.
As always, there are exceptions to such rules, and my favorite example of this is the garden at Auto Lab on Spring St. in Wellesley Square. Tucked away behind the soon-to-be closed Turnabout Shoppe, this tiniest of gardens produces but one crop, but what a crop. The gardener at Auto Lab takes a gritty, urban-looking wall and turns it into a productive vertical garden that produces masses of cherry tomatoes all summer long. It’s a wild-looking, untamed tangle of greenery and food, never clipped into any sort of submission, never coaxed into something perhaps a bit more presentable. I present you with these pictures of an urban garden here in suburban Wellesley.
The town of Wellesley is asking residents to cut back on watering their increasingly crunchy brown lawns in light of recent dry weather conditions that have strained the local water supply. Natick’s already got a mandatory outside use ban as it grapples with a mechanical issue (as a Swellesley reader pointed out in the comments section below).
The town of Wellesley alert warns: “Wellesley’s water demands are now challenging the capacity of our water supply. A continuation of these demands may adversely impact our ability to meet essential needs (i.e. fire protection) and may jeopardize water quality… Our water supply / demand status is now in a WATCH condition, which is the final stage prior to mandatory outside water use restrictions. To avoid our implementation of a mandatory outside watering ban, we are asking you now to voluntarily reduce outside water use.”
Recommended steps include:
*Reducing your lawn irrigation by 20%. If you have an automatic timed system, please shorten the watering period by at least 20%.
*Using less than 1-inch of water per week on your lawn, and this inch should include the natural rainfall. (For a typical lawn, with no rain during the week, this would mean about 2 1⁄2 hours of irrigation per week).
*Irrigating only once per week to encourage deep rooting of the grasses.
*Directing all irrigation to appropriate areas (do not water pavement).
*Irrigating during low evaporation periods, namely between 7 pm and 8 am.
For more information or specific questions, please call the Water & Sewer Division, weekdays between 7 am and 4 pm, at 781-235-7600 x 3355.
The following is from the DPW, Engineering division. All photo credits to DPW:
July has proven to be a very busy month in Fuller Brook Park with hot, dry weather. This is good for work in the brook, for which low water flow is helpful, but stressful for all the trees and grass planted over the past year, which are struggling to become established. Major items of new work are show below.
July and August are good months for work in the street because of lower traffic volumes and limited school transportation, mostly for camps. The DPW has completed the drainage work in Wellesley Ave., which upgrades the size of the drain to the brook to accommodate increased development over recent years. Photos show excavating under a waterline. Installing the larger drain pipe, and the enlarged outfall to Fuller Brook.