Cindy Richards runs the Southold Reuse Area like a business.
Before she arrived, the tables were stacked with unorganized boxes of donations. But Ms. Richards knows how to keep a tight ship. She has experience, after all, as a former business owner.
Now, as she enters her fifth year as an attendant at the site, she keeps the center organized in neat sections. Kid’s toys and bikes go in the back right corner. CDs are along the left gate, and a nearby table only holds glassware. Ms. Richards spreads tablecloths over each table, so they look nice, and music blares from the attendant’s hut near the entrance.
“I call this my happy place,” she said. Open Friday through Sunday, the reuse area bustles with people dropping off reusable goods or wandering through to look for things they can reuse themselves — “a very good program … for people who need to get rid of things and people that need things.”
The program was closed during the pandemic, stretching from March 2020 through July 9, 2021. The reuse area, which is open to the weather, was emptied out as it became clear the pandemic wasn’t going to end in just a few weeks.
Town solid waste coordinator Jim Bunchuck said more people reached out about the reuse area “than anything else” during the pandemic. He pointed out that it was more difficult to make donations at the time, calling the discard of reusable goods one of waste management’s “untold stories in the pandemic.” The district saw a “substantial” increase in residential waste tonnage, he said, although it’s not clear how much of that was due to the closure of the reuse area.
That’s partially why, out of concern the reuse area would be overwhelmed upon reopening, Mr. Bunchuck and Ms. Richards implemented some new rules post-pandemic. There are tighter restrictions on what can be dropped off, at the discretion of Ms. Richards. No more armoires or other bulky furniture that’s difficult to move. Additionally, people can now only visit once a day for 15 minutes, rather than twice a day, and anyone unvaccinated must wear a mask.
But despite the new rules, people seem excited the reuse area is back. The site, which filled up again after the first two weekends, has been busy — especially on Sundays, Ms. Richards said.
“I’m glad we’ve been able to get back to it, and it’s a shame. I’m sure a lot of good things were thrown out [during the pandemic] that didn’t have to be,” Mr. Bunchuck said.
Elena Yaccarino, a Bethpage resident, said her grandparents from Cutchogue visit the area whenever they have something they think someone might reuse. The family returned to the site in July for the first time since it reopened, to drop off a light fixture and a few other items leftover from a garage sale the previous week.
Ms. Yaccarino’s grandmother might take things home as well, if she thinks she can reuse them. “You know that old saying, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” Ms. Yaccarino said.
And now that the reuse area is back up and running, new people are stumbling across the site. Mario Garrisi and his son Nick from Calverton visited the Southold Reuse Center for the first time in July, on their way back from a trip to Greenport. They found “a couple of good things” — Mr. Garrisi carried out a fish tank filled with about a dozen baseballs. His son, also holding a fish tank, found some baseball gloves to go with them.
“We’d check it out if we’re in the area,” Mr. Garrisi said, reflecting on whether they’d return to the site.
Greenport resident John Maher is a regular at the reuse area, although not because he’s particularly looking for something. He likes to come by to look at the different “knick-knacks” people drop off, like paintings and beer mugs. Sometimes, he’ll take things home. On a sweltering Friday in July, he found a bottle opener and a sliced bread dish.
Asked if he missed the reuse center during the pandemic, he said, “I learned not to miss anything in life. I miss everything. I miss people.”
But, he added, it’s been “delightful” to see Ms. Richards again. “She’s a sweetheart,” he said.