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dumpster divers
Twin City dumpster divers, Torii Moré, Renee Costanzo and Amanda Patenaude. (For The Pantagraph)

When Torii Moré brings treats for her fellow staffers at the McLean County Museum of History, no one ever asks exactly what it is or where she got it.

They already know.

The trash. Someone else’s.

“When we tell people we’re dumpster divers,” says Torii, an energetic, cute, socially driven 22-year-old from Bloomington, “they’re like, ‘You what?’ ”

Yes, what.

These days, while you are readying for bed at night, making sure the trash is out, there’s an entire other chunk of the populace — dozens of Illinois State University students or recent grads, most from upper-ended, well-provided Chicago suburbs. They are readying to go out, as dumpster divers, to troll Twin City trash.

“One thing you learn,” says Amanda Patenaude, 23, a senior fine arts major from Palatine, “is that anything you want or need in life eventually will be thrown out by someone else.”

They are not survivalists.

This is not a pack of homeless, 20-somethings roving about for their next half-eaten Whopper with cheese.

Nah, this is — if you will — highly civilized incivility.

They “curb-shop,” as they call it, once or twice a week, in the back of B-N’s finest stores and groceries looking for discarded food, still packaged, household items … very nice things that didn’t sell and eventually became garbage.

Although it does provide them — free, in tricky economic times — with life’s necessities, for them it also is a social cause, a moral drive, a rescue mission to, as “freegans,” save from destruction perfectly good items that others can use and desperately need.

“It’s really fun,” says Renee Costanzo, another senior. “And sort of depressing, too.”

Keep in mind, these are not happenstance, scavenger hunts.

They’re planned.

The girls have pictures of the “harvest,” too — bag-full after bag-full of nice stuff, all tossed; cart after cart, heaped in just “past-due” items at groceries.

Torii, a highly organized type and the daughter of a retired Chicago Tribune photographer, even keeps lists of what she’s found — brand-new luggage, the speakers to her computer, a complete sets of golf clubs, sweaters, jackets, books, aprons, jewelry, new shoes, shelves, a heated towel rack.

At a “dumpster diving” informational meeting last weekend at the History Museum, staged in conjunction with an ongoing “Come and Get It! The Way We Ate” exhibit, Torii, Amanda and Renee explained to a pretty good crowd exactly they do, and why. They also had out on a table — free to anyone who wanted it — shirts, books, delicious fresh desserts, all made from garbage.

“That’s ultimately what we want to do,” says Torii, an anthropology graduate, “… to open a `Free Store’ here, where people can get things free or barter.” 

For the record, it is an ordinance violation in Normal to dumpster dive. There is nothing on the books in Bloomington. But in both cities, trespassing is against the law and dumpster diving is that.

But so be it.

“We hope,” says Torii, “if ever ‘caught,’ to simply show police what we have, ask them to look at it and see why we took it. I’ve never considered myself an activist but it’s a crime what’s being thrown away … .”

In the meantime, as she talks, making more sense as she goes, Torii rivets to Jan. 26, 2010.

That was the first time, she says, she put on rain boots, grubby clothes, got a flashlight, some trash bags (some  divers also wear goggles to protect their eyes) and went out to hunt down B-N’s trash.

“That first night,” she says, “it completely changed the way I look at things and also this town.”

“EAT TRASH!” read a sign at last weekend’s dumpster diver informational meeting — a proclamation that easily draws the eye.

Then you think about it.

Sadly, and also gloriously, it’s true.



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