Lois Zeidman laughs a little when she thinks about how much time she devoted to collecting cans for the recycling program she founded.
“My late husband, Fred, used to tease me, because whenever we were in the car I’d tell him to pull over so I could collect some cans,” she said.
Nearly 15 years ago, Zeidman began “Cans Can - A Tikkun Olam Project” to raise funds to purchase dairy goats to help families in Rwanda become self-sufficient. She became interested in providing assistance to the country after she had heard Rwandan humanitarian Paul Rusesabagina speak at a Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix event in 2005.
Rusesabagina wrote an autobiography about the Rwandan genocide. “An Ordinary Man” was adapted into the film “Hotel Rwanda,” where he was famously portrayed by Don Cheadle.
Zeidman succeeded in her initial mission, raising enough funds to buy 38 pairs of goats for Rwandan families. She decided on collecting cans for recycling profits because she wanted to find a way to be charitable and giving without making people break out their wallets. Cans Can was run through Temple Beth Sholom of the East Valley.
She also said that she was providing an ecological service through collecting cans. When she started this program, she received a lot of cans from neighbors and friends who wished to help.
“Cans Can rarely took any direct money. We were pretty much solely collecting cans, and that was our primary source of revenue.”
It wasn’t always an easy mitzvah for the retired social worker.
“When I started, I’d get about 35 cents for every pound of aluminum I brought to the recycling center, so it took a lot of pounds to make it worthwhile,” Zeidman said. “Throughout the years, the price did eventually grow to roughly $1.10 a pound, and then went down to 65 cents.”
Rwandan families weren’t the only ones who received assistance from the Cans Can program. Zeidman also provided Sudanese refugees living in Darfur with solar cookers. The instruments greatly reduced the quantity of firewood needed for cooking, which meant that the refugees didn’t have to go out as often to collect wood.
Another recipient of Cans Can funding was the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry. Jewish men in Ethiopia were unable to secure day jobs due to lack of tools. Cans Can was able to support the NACOEJ with purchasing the necessary tools so that the men would be better positioned to secure work.
One of the last programs Zeidman collected cans for was Shoulder to Shoulder, a family support agency initially based in Be’er Sheva and now in several locations across Israel. The agency works with all members of a family over 12 months to help them become independent and responsible members of Israeli society.
In 2009, The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism selected TBS as a recipient of the Gold Solomon Schechter Award for Excellence in Synagogue Programming in recognition of the Cans Can program.
Although Zeidman is retiring from Cans Can, she isn't finished helping others.
“Right now a friend introduced me to picking up plastic bags that can be weaved into long mats that can be given to the homeless. Homeless
individuals can use these to sleep on them. It’s kind of a post-script career, so to speak.” JN