Last month, MSNBC.com featured an unemployed father who took a firefighter job in Iraq in order to support his family. The website wanted readers to tell their own stories about the extremes they’ve gone to in order to make ends meet.
This week, they feature Todd, a North Carolina father of three who takes to the streets at night to dig in dumpsters for food and other items he can sell online. Sometimes, his 14-year-old son goes with him, which is great for Todd because the son can get in and out of dumpsters more easily than his dad.
It’s nasty and stinky and not totally safe. Still, you shouldn’t feel sorry for Todd.
You see, Todd, a programmer, isn’t homeless or starving or desperate or even without health insurance. He dumpster dives because he’s “an opportunist” and also because it helps the family budget’s bottom line. “I have three kids in school and a wife in nursing school, and things are tight,” he said. “This helps a ton.”
Todd’s careful about not giving MSNBC his name — he doesn’t reveal his location, even. It’s not because he’s ashamed but because he doesn’t want to attract any competition. In addition to stocking the family with — judging from a picture he gave the website — pork rinds, Ritz crackers, Frosted Flakes and Lorna Doone cookies, he has also generated about $2,400 this year by selling off pots of high-end wrinkle cream on eBay and Craigslist.
Todd says he’s got his standards: wears gloves, bathes stuff in Clorox, never takes fish or anything that’s unsealed, showers after each dive. But he’s not afraid of bruised fruit. And he says he’s generous: he donated 19 frozen turkeys that he found to a food shelter once.
Todd’s got a better gag reflex than me, but still, I won’t judge. He’s right when he observes that today’s businesses, restaurants, offices and schools generate tremendous waste. And until there’s some kind of system or moral calling or something to cut it back, I’m glad there are trash-pickers and dumpster divers out there recovering some of it. I hope things are never so desperate for me that I would need to resort to dumpster diving. I know with great certainty it will never be a hobby for me.
Are you a dumpster diver? What’s the most extreme thing you’ve done to cut expenses or generate income?