- Associated Press - Monday, February 24, 2014

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) - Stephanie Lilly is helping to pay for her college education one bottle and can at a time.

Lilly and her parents collect bottles and cans almost every weekend in neighborhoods from Harrisburg to Eugene.

In the past four years, the Oregon State University senior from Harrisburg has redeemed enough bottles and cans to pay for a hefty share of her college expenses.

Lilly figures that it costs her about $14,000 annually in tuition and books to attend OSU.

Some weekends she makes less than $100 from the bottle drives. But most weekends she clears more than $100.

Add that up over a year and it’s enough money to pay tuition for one of OSU’s four academic terms and buy books for an entire school year, she said.

“I tell people that I’m a really good recycler,” Lilly said.

But economic reality, not an overdeveloped environmental sensibility, drives Lilly to gather bottles and cans from dozens of doorsteps each weekend.

The youngest of four children, Lilly comes from a blue collar family. She couldn’t rely on rich parents to pay for college.

“I’m responsible for any school expenses,” she said.

Lilly plans to attend medical school and become a doctor. She started doing bottle drives while she was a junior at Harrisburg High School.

That year, she redeemed bottles and cans for a trip to Japan as part of the People to People Ambassador program. She did the same the next year for a senior trip.

An excellent student, Lilly received an academic scholarship for college, but it pays only a portion of her costs.

She’s had a job at the Harrisburg Public Works Department since she was 16. She works for the department full-time during the summer and a few hours a week during school.

She saves money by living at home.

These things and the bottle drives have allowed her to avoid the scourge of many college students - loans.

“We are so proud of her,” said her mother, Penny, an assembly line worker at the Hewlett-Packard plant in Corvallis.

After six years of bottle drives, the Lillys are experts in what they do.

They visit certain neighborhoods in Harrisburg, Junction City and the Santa Clara area of Eugene. They make rounds every two months, which gives residents time to accumulate enough containers to make it worthwhile for the Lillys to drive by.

The Lillys are relentless. They collect every weekend, except during a few weeks in the summer when they go camping, or during harsh weather, like the early February snowstorm.

After so many years of getting the fliers on their doors, some residents know of Stephanie Lilly’s plans for med school. Some put out extra-large collections of bottles and cans; a few give her an occasional cash donation.

The collections are a family affair.

On Fridays, Penny Lilly drives to the selected neighborhoods and walks the streets putting fliers on doors. The fliers ask residents to leave bottles and cans outside their homes the next morning.

On Saturdays, Stephanie Lilly’s father, Scott, would drive the family’s Dodge pickup through neighborhoods for the collections. Stephanie and her mom would scan porches and driveways for container-filled sacks or boxes. Upon seeing them, dad would stop the truck and mother and daughter would hop out of the cab and put them in the truck bed.

Scott Lilly, who had been production manager at RV maker Monaco Coach for 25 years, lost his job after the Coburg plant shut down a few years ago.

He recently got a job as an RV technician at Camping World in Coburg.

On Saturday, Penny had taken his place behind the wheel and drove the pickup through a neighborhood in north Eugene, near Crescent Avenue.

Stephanie sat in the passenger seat and got out to retrieve bottles and cans.

As Stephanie picked up sacks off a driveway, Penny said: “We run into a lot of people who are just thrilled to see her doing something like this. They are happy to see a young person doing something for themselves rather than having everything handed to them.”

Collecting cans and bottles takes several hours on Saturdays, but more work waits at home.

The cans and bottles have to be sorted for redemption at a Harrisburg market. Non-redeemable glass and metal containers must be pulled from the piles and put in recycling bins.

Redeeming bottles and cans for $100 each weekend may sound lucrative.

However, the Lillys say that, with the sorting, the collections can take about 15 hours a week.

The cost of gas and fliers, which Stephanie’s parents pay for, also much be considered, the Lillys say.

After graduating from OSU in June, Stephanie Lilly will collect bottles and cans on weekends, though not as frequently as she does now. She will use the money from the redemptions to help pay for medical school applications.

She hopes to start medical school in fall 2015.

“I would like to thank everyone that has donated to me over the years,” Stephanie said. “All of their support has been greatly appreciated. Also, a special thanks to my parents for their love, support and help along the way.”


Information from: The Register-Guard, https://www.registerguard.com

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