No crayon left behind: Marshall woman's charity draws rave reviews
When it comes to crayons, Emily Skopov of Marshall thinks outside the box.
Her locally-based non-profit organization, No Crayon Left Behind, has collected several hundred thousand used restaurant crayons that otherwise would be thrown away, and donates them to schools, shelters, social agencies and orphanages throughout the region and across the globe. Currently, 104 restaurants from across the country donate crayons to No Crayon Left Behind.
“There are people around the world who have never had the chance to draw something or create something out of nothing,” Skopov said. “When you see a child or young adult using crayons for the most basic thing — like writing their own name or drawing a picture of the sun — and you see huge smiles on their faces, you realize how valuable it is to bring that opportunity to someone.”
In 2011, Skopov was celebrating her son's birthday at Red Robin restaurant in Cranberry when she noticed he had not opened the crayons that had been placed on the table for him. She asked the waiter what would happen to the crayons after they left.
“He told me that they're thrown out from every table, every time, no matter if they're used or if they're brand new in their heat-sealed packages,” she said. “I was horrified.”
She made arrangements with the restaurant manager to collect the crayons. The manager called six additional Red Robin restaurants to see if they would contribute their used crayons, too.
“I went home and started cold-calling women's shelters, homeless shelters, and daycare centers in impoverished areas of town to see if they could use the crayons. They were thrilled to accept them,” Skopov said.
The Education Partnership, a non-profit organization that provides free and steeply-discounted resources and school supplies to teachers in 56 schools serving underprivileged children throughout six counties in Southwestern Pennsylvania, also was happy to accept crayons. Since 2012, The Education Partnership has received 209,538 crayons from No Crayon Left Behind, according to founder and executive director Justin Brown.
Teachers are allowed to take as many of the used crayons as they want at no charge, said Peggy Wolstoncroft, director of advancement.
“They take them back to their school and give them to the kids to take home,” she said.
“Students who receive these crayons come from households where the parents' income qualifies for the National School Lunch Program.
Parents must make a choice of whether to put food on the table or crayons in the hands of their children,” Brown said.
Skopov has shipped crayons as far away as Haiti, Mexico and Guatemala. She also has sent batches to Peace Corps volunteers in Morocco to help them teach English and make schoolwork more engaging.
Her biggest single monthly collection was 75 pounds of crayons she received from Bravo restaurant in Cranberry, which equals roughly 7,000 crayons.
“At first, it took us a minute to train our crew to save the crayons, but now it's a habit,” said general manager Kim Lannen.
No Crayon Left Behind first strayed outside the state lines in 2014 when a 12-year-old family friend of Skopov's introduced the organization to Southern California as part of her eighth-grade community service project.
Kennedy Dierks, now 14, continues to recruit restaurants. On average, she collects, sorts and delivers about 1,000 crayons per month to schools and shelters throughout the Los Angeles and South Bay area, where she resides.
“It's the joy in the recipients' faces that motivates me to keep working. One second-grade teacher told me she usually would break crayons in half, or even thirds, just to make sure there were enough,” Dierks said.
To make every crayon look new, Skopov used to sharpen each one she received. Now, she receives too many to keep up.
She melts the damaged or heavily-used crayons in pots on her stove, then re-forms them. For special occasions, she pours the melted wax into baking molds shaped like seashells, pumpkins, Christmas trees and menorahs to create interestingly shaped crayons.
She receives no compensation for her efforts, and has relied on several volunteers for help along the way. Aside from a handful of cash donations, she has used her own money to cover a vast majority of the expenses — including shipping costs, marketing materials and a newly-leased office in Sewickley.
She spends about 45 hours a week on No Crayon Left Behind, while continuing her career as a film and television writer. Her credits include “Xena: Warrior Princess,” “Andromeda” and “Farscape.” She also is working on a movie script which she hopes to film in Pittsburgh.
Recently, she hired a consultant to help her turn No Crayon Left Behind into a business with paid staff.
“I work (at No Crayon Left Behind) seven days a week just to maintain the momentum. I can't do it as a hobby anymore,” she said.
“I purposely haven't kept track of how much I've spent because it would freak me out, but it's got to be thousands of dollars.”
Laurie Rees is a contributing writer for the Tribune-Review.