STANDISH – Donna Sawyer, the jovial former Standish town hall

employee who retired in March, is known far and wide for her two

passions: quilting and gardening. Now, the Limington resident is

becoming known for another of her devotions: scouring the Limington

and Standish countryside for roadside bottles, all in the name of

helping others heat their homes this winter.

STANDISH – Donna Sawyer, the jovial former Standish town hall employee who retired in March, is known far and wide for her two passions: quilting and gardening.

She spends six to 12 hours a day in the summer meticulously caring for her gardens, and just as much time quilting in the winter, churning out quilts faster than Betsy Ross. In addition, the 65-year-old hosts a garden-themed show on Saco River Community Television.

Now, the Limington resident is becoming known for another of her devotions: scouring the Limington and Standish countryside for roadside bottles, all in the name of helping others heat their homes this winter.

“My neighbors see me out there and they wonder what I’m doing,” she said. “I just tell them I’m picking bottles for charity.”

As a founding member of the Bottles for Fuel program in Standish, Sawyer donates all the bottles she collects on the roadside near her Limington home and is aiming to convince others to follow her in her altruistic quest to raise money for the Standish fuel fund.

“It’s addicting,” she said of her daily 3-mile walks seeking redeemable bottles and cans. “And the whole time I get this feeling I’m helping people to stay warm. It’s wonderful. And I want other retired people to say, well, if that one woman can do it, I think I can step up to the plate, too. I guess you could say I’m trying to become the Pied Piper of the bottle brigade.”

One of Sawyer’s roles at Standish Town Hall, other than working in the planning department, was to review applications for the fuel fund that was set up in summer 2008 when gasoline and fuel oil spiked to more than $4 a gallon. She would often hear sad stories from those who didn’t qualify for general assistance, or who were recently laid off or fell ill and were struggling to make ends meet. The fund provides a one-time donation of 100 gallons, or its firewood equivalent, of heating assistance.

“I used to take the applications, and people, after they were approved, would sit there and cry,” Sawyer said. “And it was tears of joy. They couldn’t believe there are people who care about them.”

So now, in her retirement, Sawyer is trying to give back again, in a more kinetic way. She believes the program could be completely covered by roadside can redemption, which in Maine provides 5 cents for qualifying aluminum cans and glass bottles.

“You wouldn’t believe the number of cans and bottles there are out there,” Sawyer said last week while preparing to unload her SUV stuffed with large bags of bottles at one of the fuel fund’s donation sites, Two Trails Redemption, at the intersection of routes 25 and 113.

Sawyer says she has become addicted to collecting the bottles, similar to how she has pursued her other hobby interests.

“It all started very innocently in mid-August I’d say when the garden started going dormant,” she said. “I’d pick up four or five bottles and put them in my pockets. And it grew from there, so I was filling the inside of my jacket with them. And then in September, I started taking a Hannaford bag with me, and then I realized I needed two bags. Now, when I go, I leave with three Hannaford bags.”

A byproduct of bottle collecting for Sawyer is the health benefits. She says she’s lost 8 pounds since she started walking, and that she gets a good aerobic workout by fetching far-off bottles, such as those that find their way to the bottom of a roadside trench. Sawyer also credits the weight-loss to the arm workout carrying bags of glass bottles that can become heavy by the end of a three-mile jaunt.

“It’s a good workout, but it’s a workout with a purpose,” she said. “I am helping to heat people’s homes with this money.”

Sawyer is also having some fun with her husband, Clifford, who is likewise retired. The two are in a virtual competition to see who can collect more bottles for charity, and are going on long walks, often by themselves, in order to canvass more areas.

“Oh, my husband is into this just as much as I am,” she said. “He’ll go on his walk and he’ll normally bring in dozens and dozens every day. It was actually his idea to see if we can get five more to do this along with us. And then those five people would get five more. So on, and so on.

“We think we could totally fund the Bottles for Fuel program every winter by having 100 people out picking bottles. It’s possible. I’ve brought in $40 worth of bottles this week alone, in what he and I have picked.”

Each keep track of how many bottles they collect, with Sawyer taking the title so far with 135 bottles collected in one day. Her husband is right behind, with 115 bottles.

Maggie Spencer, a founder and now president of the fuel fund, hopes the Sawyers’ passion for walking and raising money for the fuel fund inspires others to do the same.

“I think it’s an excellent idea,” she said. “I wish more people would do it. With winter coming, and the economy the way it is, there will be a lot of people looking for assistance this year we expect.”

Donna Sawyer has a passion for collecting roadside bottles and
then donating them to the Bottle for Fuel program in Standish. The
former Standish planning assistant is hoping to enlist the help of
other area residents interested in collecting bottles for
charity.    (Staff photo by John Balentine)


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