Learning from Scratch: Every Day is Earth Day for This Lowell Resident

Earth Day may be next Sunday, April 22, but one Lowell resident is hoping people will be thinking about the importance of recycling and reusing for more than a single day.

For nearly 20 years, Betsey Hamm has run the non-profit Learning from Scratch which practically gives away fabric, paper, sticky-backed foam scraps and just about anything else you could imagine. The items, many of which are samples or remnants from local manufacturers, are collected and sorted in bins lining the walls at Hamm’s shop on 28th Street in Grand Rapids.

Originally frequented mainly by teachers, the shop has been discovered by crafters as a treasure trove of odds and ends that can be used for all sorts of projects. Judy Thomson, the store’s marketing director, points to a wall of upholstery fabric squares. “A lot of people make tote bags out of them,” she says.

While open Monday through Saturdays from 10am-6pm, Learning from Scratch will be holding a special Spring Fling Open House tomorrow, April 14, from 11am-4pm.

Personal Passion for All Involved

Before starting Learning from Scratch, Hamm was a special education teacher. Like all teachers, she had a need for low-cost supplies for class projects. At the time, there was a local store that operated under a similar model as Learning from Scratch. While that store went out of business, Hamm decided to try something similar, and thanks to her tenacity, her store has survived countless moves and nearly 20 years.

The vast majority of the items sold at Learning from Scratch are donated by local manufacturers at no cost. Other items, such as artificial flowers and flags from area cemeteries, are rescued by Hamm before they end up in dumpsters.

“It’s massive work,” Hamm says of collecting flags from local cemeteries. She started gathering them after seeing flags and discarded decorations in the trash at various cemeteries. Now, some sextons set aside the items for her to pick up at the end of the season. The flags are taken to Boy Scout Troop 102 for proper retirement while artificial flowers are cleaned and bundled so they can be used again.

“It’s a passion,” Hamm says. “I like the fact that we’re saving things.” The 71-year old may be at retirement age, but she doesn’t plan to end her work anytime soon. “I’m very blessed, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop,” she says.

Low Cost Supplies for Educators and Crafters

Don’t think Hamm is getting rich off the collection of manufacturer samples and outcast items she’s put up for sale though. “Our pricing is really low, and it’s designed to move items out of the store,” Thomson says. Most items are sold by the bag with a sandwich-sized bag costing $1.25 and a roughly two-quart bag costing $5.00.

Learning from Scratch is a pure non-profit in that neither Hamm nor Thomson draw any sort of compensation for their work. There are two volunteers, Eric and Bill, who are regular helpers in the shop as well. The organization has no paid employees.

All money raised by Learning from Scratch helps cover rent or goes toward outreach projects. Central to those projects is an old school bus Hamm bought 16 years ago for $500. That money was raised by collecting pop cans. She then collected another 100,000 pop cans to remove the seats, paint the bus and get it ready to take art supplies to various events. In 2016, it arrived at ArtPrize and set up a station for children to make puppets. However, now the bus is in need of brake repairs before it can be used again.

Hamm also donates supplies to the annual Eames Chair Camp held during ArtPrize, gives yarn to Meals on Wheels to distribute to their clients and provides support to Ability Weavers in Lowell. “We just want to share the gifts and the abundance we have,” she says.

Lowell Owner, Grand Rapids Location

During the 20 years Hamm has run Learning from Scratch, its location has moved from her Lowell home to spots all over the region. If you want to visit Learning from Scratch now, you’ll find it in the back of the Comprenew store on 28th Street in Grand Rapids.

Comprenew refurbishes old electronics so it seems like a natural landing spot for Learning from Scratch. “They are all about recycling, and we are too,” Thomson says. “It’s a really good fit.”

If you want to stop by the Spring Fling Open House tomorrow, April 14, you’ll find the Comprenew store on 28th just to the west of the Kalamazoo Street intersection. The business is next to Meijer but doesn’t share a drive with the retailer. To get to Learning from Scratch, walk in the main entrance of Comprenew and head straight to the back of the building.

The open house will feature special pricing and “buy one, get one free” deals. There will also be limited quantity items and giveaways. The first 25 customers will get a scratch-off card worth a special discount or other prize.

To learn more about Learning from Scratch, visit their website or follow them on Facebook.

Hamm and Thomson loaded up the author with bags of goodies to take home to her children.
What followed was 30 minutes of silence at home as the 5-year old glued and stuck foam to cardboard while the 8-year old made this “rollercoaster.”


Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.