St. Sebastian Parish’s annual Earth Day scrap metal drive always seems to attract the donation of one item more than any other: Christmas lights. Especially with the popularity of energy-saving LED lights, during and after the Christmas season many families find themselves with a surplus of old and outdated decorative lights. Agu Ibanez-Balder, 16, left to right, Natalie Perleberg, 16, and Abigail Kopchinski, 16, students in St. Sebastian Parish, Milwaukee’s faith formation classes, sort through old or damaged Christmas lights, extension cords and other electric wire parishioners donated, on Sunday, Dec. 15. Money raised from the recycled lights will benefit the St. Vincent de Paul Society. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)

Four years ago, students of the Milwaukee parish’s faith formation classes began a separate drive that would help shine a little Christmas light on those who need it most.
“It is a logical path to take – why throw something out when you can recycle it?” said Barbara Haig, longtime catechist at St. Sebastian. “And from a Catholic perspective, it’s part of care for God’s creation.”

Every fall, ninth and tenth graders decorate donation boxes in Christmas gift wrap, placing them in the church and school for parishioners to deposit old or damaged lights, as well as extension cords and other electric wire, which is then taken to local scrap recycler Cimco Resources, who buys the materials from the parish.

Proceeds are donated to a charitable organization; this year’s beneficiary is the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

It’s an effective service project, learning experience and throwback to the scrap metal drives of old, said Haig, a communication consultant who helped start the program.

“I work a lot with companies that are in the green arena, and (recycling) is something that I’ve always cared about from a business perspective,” she said.

More Info

Contact Sandra McCabe,
(414) 453-1061 or, or Barbara Haig (414) 257-3853 or Donations may also be brought to the parish, 5400 W. Washington Blvd., Milwaukee.

In previous years, St. Sebastian worked with local charities like the Humane Society and Hope House, and last year extended their scope to benefit the Zafen initiative and those affected by the earthquakes in Haiti. In early 2013, 604 pounds of wire were collected by the students, purchased by Cimco at 30 cents per pound, resulting in $181.20 for a micro-lending project in Haiti.

The haul for 2013 was twice what it had been the previous year, reported sophomore Bridget Lee, an accomplishment that enthused the students.

“The whole donating thing, that everyone would bring something small and it just came together into something big … it was really cool,” she said.

“It teaches them certainly about recycling – I know younger people know quite a bit about it – it’s certainly more ingrained in their culture than it was in mine growing up,” said Haig. “It also teaches them about communication. I encourage them to talk about it if they are on social media, to make sure that people in the area know what’s going on and what they’re doing to work on it. I think it also teaches them about the other people that recycle, and why other people recycle.”

Lee said several of the students took bins to area stores to make it a community-wide effort.

Recycling is something in which her family has always tried to participate.

“We’ve always been a little bit more on the recycling side, and even just going to church, they talk about it, some of the Mass announcements talk about recycling,” she said. “We take so much away from the earth – think of all we take away! Even doing just a small little portion of recycling is helping the earth.”

The public can donate used or damaged Christmas lights at the donation boxes located at St. Sebastian Parish gathering space and school office. Donations will be accepted through Jan. 10, to accommodate post-Christmas donations.

“It’s a combination of recycling the lights and educating the kids about what St. Vincent de Paul’s does and how their money will benefit the organization,” said Haig.