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Sherwood Park's HodgePodge Lodge gives new life to old items

Reuse centre could be coming soon to St. Albert

It’s another busy Wednesday afternoon at the Sherwood Park HodgePodge Lodge. About a dozen people bustle about the 1,500 square-foot shack in search of treasures. There are candles, trays, books, glasses, novelty Christmas items, and other knickknacks stacked on shelves everywhere, with volunteers adding more every few minutes.

“It’s crazy busy all day, every day,” said Erin Wildeboer, waste diversion outreach programs supervisor for Strathcona County and manager of the Lodge.

And you can find some wild stuff on the shelves sometimes, she continued: dried seahorses, cremated pets in urns, and even a human tooth.

“My favourite is this,” she said, pulling up a picture on her phone of one item from last February: a pair of yellow plastic blobs of synthetic fat.

“It was gone within the first day!”

St. Albert city council voted May 7 to add a take it-or-leave-it facility inspired by the HodgePodge Lodge to its 10-Year Capital Plan. The Gazette visited the Lodge last week to see what it was all about.

Trash? Treasure!

Wildeboer said her department created the first HodgePodge Lodge in 2017 after seeing too many usable objects being dropped off at the county’s recycling yard for disposal. They set up a sea can at the yard where residents could pick up and drop off usable items that weren’t fit for charity or thrift stores. It was soon packed to the brim, prompting the county to start planning a bigger facility — one that finally opened last year.

The Lodge itself is a roughly house-sized shed built mostly of upcycled materials. Visitors to the Lodge can pick up and drop off virtually any intact, usable item for free, with furniture, encyclopedias, and fluorescent bulbs among the few items not accepted.

“The whole concept is to keep thing out of the landfill and in somebody’s hands so it can be used for the entire length of its lifetime,” Wildeboer said.

A quick browse of the shelves last week (which themselves were reused or upcycled objects) revealed records, printers, cat towers, lampshades, hockey skates, and more art supplies than a Kindergarten classroom.

“We have any kind of binder you could possibly imagine,” Wildeboer said — enough to fill an entire shed.

“Please, come take our binders!”

Builds community

The Lodge gets a lot of repeat visitors, many of whom fix items up for later sale or donation, said Linda Frey, who has been a volunteer at the Lodge since 2017.

“It’s fun to see what people drop off and what people pick up and think they need,” she said.

Wildeboer said the Lodge has provided paint and pots for community events and given students a place to rack up volunteer hours. The Lodge has provided new immigrants with essentials, tinkerers with obscure parts for repairs, and its passionate volunteers a sense of community.

It has also kept waste out of the landfill. Wildeboer said the Lodge has taken in some 690,000 pounds of material since it opened and kept 650,000 of that out of the dump.

Wildeboer said the Lodge is a pretty low-cost operation, but isn’t a money-maker either. The current building cost $275,000 and was staffed by volunteers.

A May 2024 report to St. Albert city council found that a take-it-or-leave-it centre might cost $977,000 to build and $150,000 a year to operate.

Wildeboer said St. Albert shouldn’t have any issues with starting a take-it-or-leave-it centre, as such facilities have proven to work in many communities. She recommended having a full-time staffer on hand to support the centre’s volunteers, and to pair it with an existing recycling station.

“If you have the capacity to go bigger, go way bigger,” she advised — the HodgePodge Lodge is already bursting at the seams.

Provided St. Albert council approves funding for it in next year’s budget, planning for the St. Albert take-it-or-leave-it centre could take place in 2025, with construction set for 2026, the May 2024 report suggests.

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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