Brooklyn ‘Canners’ Collective Faces Uncertain Future

Canners of varying backgrounds discuss a possible "trade" of their inventory. (Photo by Matthew Taub, via Brooklyn Brief)

(Photo by Matthew Taub, via Brooklyn Brief)

A Bushwick-based collective of “canners” – who gather glass and metal from garbage cans and recycle bins to make a living – is facing an uncertain future after the landlord of the premises it rents asked it to purchase the property if it wants to stay in business at the current location. The nonprofit says it has no money to buy the property at the market price of $3.9 million, reports Matthew Taub for the Brooklyn Brief.

“Our landlord is good to us, but I struggle just to pay the $4,100 in rent,” says Ana Martinez de Luco, who runs the “Sure We Can” collective, the only licensed non-profit entity of its kind in New York City.

“Sure We Can” was started as a 501(c)(3) by Eugene Gadsden, a former canner-turned-community activist, and De Luco, a Roman Catholic nun, seven years ago. It has been operating at its current location in Brooklyn for the past three-and-a-half years, offering payouts for the cans brought to the site, besides paying those who sort and stack its inventory.

“We have every race, every background here,” De Luco said. “You’ll see an old Chinese man and a young Jamaican man making signs with their hands. They don’t share a language, so they’re using nonverbal cues to ‘make a trade’ so they can each stack a full tray of one particular brand to earn extra money. Over time, they even become friends.”

But the operations at the current location may not last longer because of the landlord’s intention to sell the property. The landlord has indicated that Sure We Can would have first priority but only if it buys the property at the current market price, which seems to be “extremely unlikely.”

In the meantime, the canning collective continues busily apace. The weather may permeate with blazing heat or frigid cold, De Luco claimed, but there is always a canner knocking on the outside gate, indicating the need and demand for such a location to remain.

“I’m getting older,” De Luco said. “I want to reach sixty knowing I was able to make this place secure for them.”

Read the complete article at Brooklyn Brief, which details the daily operations of Sure We Can and why it is the preferred choice of those living at the extreme margins of society.

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