They search garbage cans and Dumpsters. They collect black bags full of cans from predetermined locations throughout Kingsport. They take the day’s haul — combined with what was collected the previous Tuesday — to a recycling center and collect the money. Greene then sends the money to the Holston Conference Foundation in Alcoa, Tenn.
The Holston Conference Foundation oversees the Grace Scholarship Fund, which Greene established in 1996 to provide scholarship opportunities to students who have the desire and drive to pursue a college degree, but who are not likely to find other financial resources.
Since 1996, the scholarship fund has amassed more than $50,000. As of July 9, $9,874 of that came from the collection of aluminum cans alone.
The first stop on a recent Tuesday morning is the pool in the Willowbrook community of Kingsport. As with the other stops, the duo never know whether it will be a good haul or not. Usually after a weekend of pool parties, there’s plenty of cans. But the previous weekend must have been a quiet one in the secluded community that sits in the shadow of Bays Mountain.
“We’re done. We only got four,” Greene announces after only a few minutes of checking garbage cans.
“No good today,” Mathieson echoes.
The pair load back up in Greene’s truck and head for his Willowbrook home. There they transfer black bags full of cans from Greene’s garage to his truck bed, bound for Thompson Metal Services Inc. on Riverport Road.
Mathieson began collecting aluminum cans in the late 1980s for scholarships awarded by the Kingsport Optimist Club. Around 1995, Greene joined Mathieson in this quest. In 2004, the Optimists began looking at other ways to raise funds, but Mathieson continued to collect the cans for Greene’s Grace Scholarship Fund. In addition to cans, they also collect brass and copper .
Folks all around town save cans for them. Greene’s grown children save cans, as do Mathieson’s daughter and granddaughter in Nebraska. Mathieson recently returned from Nebraska with $50 for the fund.
Greene doesn’t intend to award any scholarships until the fund reaches $100,000. And scholarships will only be given to students attending one of the Holston Conference Colleges — Emory & Henry, Tennessee Wesleyan or Hiwassee. The scholarships will be awarded annually from the earnings, with the principal being held in perpetuity.
The fund, Greene said, isn’t for top-ranked seniors.
“People who have high grades and a high ACT score can get help anywhere. This fund is for marginal students who really want to get a college education but do not have scholarly grades,” he said.
After loading Greene’s truck, the pair head to the recycling center. Greene estimates they have around 50 pounds of cans today.
On the way, Greene explains that collecting cans isn’t all about the money. “I wanted to recycle. It’s not all money. We’re keeping that out of the dump, saving bauxite, making money and saving energy,” he said.
At Thompson, Greene and Mathieson are greeted as regulars. A weighing of the bags registers 60 pounds of aluminum cans and an additional 12 pounds of aluminum from sources other than cans. They collect a check for $27.60.
Next stop — First Broad Street United Methodist Church, the pair’s home church. It’s not a regularly scheduled stop, but a chance for Greene to drop off a cake he’s baked for a staff member’s birthday.
Greene and Mathieson first met years ago at Johns Island, S.C. They chuckle at the memory.
“We met on a roof at Johns Island. We were on a mission trip for church,” Mathieson said.
“I was real proud of myself for being on that roof because I was close to 60,” Greene said. “We got to talking, and he was 80. Took the wind out of my sail.”
The pair pull up in front of Pulmonary Associates of Kingsport on Wellmont Health System’s Stone Drive campus. They unload empty black garbage bags to replace the ones they’ll remove from Pulmonary Associates’ office.
Shirley Hawkins, Pulmonary Associates’ administrator, is expecting them. “He does a great service. He’s dedicated to his ministry, and I appreciate that,” she says of Greene.
Greene and Mathieson alternate Tuesdays between Pulmonary Associates’ Holston Valley office and its Indian Path office. Greene explains that some stops are only made once a month — like City Hall — and he makes additional stops on Mondays, going as far as Blountville for a pick-up every few weeks.
In addition to cans at Pulmonary Associates, they collect a stack of aluminum pans left over from an office luncheon. After loading them in the truck bed, they head to the next stop — the Kingsport Renaissance Center. A quick check of the barrels there reveals only a few cans, and within minutes they’re back in the truck. Pulling out, Greene spies a flattened Miller Lite can in the road. He gets out and grabs it.
“When one gets flattened like that, no one will pick it up. They’ll keep running over it until it’s dust,” he says.
Before calling it a day, they make one final stop. Pulling off Fort Henry Drive, they park behind the B&J Drive-Thru, where they find cans thrown into the bushes as well as a few in the Dumpster out front.
Gifts and memorials to the Grace Scholarship Fund are tax-free and will be acknowledged as such by the Holston Conference United Methodist Church Foundation Inc.
Greene is also interested in starting an alum-a-thon, where Sunday school classes or other groups can donate to the fund by pledging an additional amount based on what’s collected.
For more information regarding the fund, call the Holston Conference Foundation at (865) 690-4080 or Greene at 378-4921.