There have been very few times that I haven’t left a restaurant with my family and felt incredibly guilty about both the mess we left behind and the unused crayons my children left discarded. Most parents totally get that.
But unlike most parents, 37-year-old Sheila Michail Morovati from Los Angeles, CA actually did something about those 150 million neglected crayons that get tossed every year in the U.S. She founded Crayon Collection, a non-profit organization that pairs restaurants and other establishments with schools serving children in need, so that all children can have access to a very basic tool for creativity — a crayon.
Her initial inspiration for the organization came when she was just a child visiting Acapulco with her family and had a life-changing moment.
“I had a balloon and a bunch of trinkets that a restaurant had given me,” Moravati explained to me. “And as I walked back to my hotel, the street kids were intrigued by the balloon. Within minutes I had 15 kids around me pointing at my balloon and my little toys. My mom whispered to me that I should give them everything because the joy I would have from these would last about 10 minutes while they would experience happiness with the same toys for weeks to come.”
This encounter would go on to leave a huge impression on Morovati, especially as the years passed and she became a mother herself.
“[When dining out with] my very picky eating 2-year-old, I noticed many crayons were given out to us and the tables around us. These kids would use the crayons for a few moments and then they would be pushed aside or roll onto the ground, then be swept into the trash with the rest of the remains of our meals. All I could envision were the little kids living in poverty, knowing how badly they would enjoy these colorful gems.”
Sadly, Morovati knew the reality that exists for many children and teachers in our country, who are lacking the financial resources to have basic supplies in their classrooms. As the wife of a teacher who spends hundreds every year simply buying his students pencils (no, seriously!), I can definitely say that sometimes, it’s hard to believe that there really are children who don’t have access to supplies we consider so basic.
“I knew something had to change because even within our borders teachers were being (and still are) forced to spend out-of-pocket for classroom supplies and the environment is in a dire state and we need to create a shift in our behavior,” Morovati noted. “We believe that the nonchalance of throwing perfectly good crayons away is an example of how the general culture of wastefulness has to stop.”
So Crayon Collection was born, and it works like this: The organization creates presentations for each restaurant that signs on, gets trained in how to collect the crayons so that they are clean and not soiled, and how to store them. The restaurant is paired with a school about 2-5 miles away and a crayon pick-up is scheduled for about once a month to get those crayons to the school and in the hands of students who will actually use them. As for those less-than-stellar crayons that we all know exist? “The schools we are serving are so under supplied that even the chalky crayons offer some benefit,” Morovati explains.
So far, Crayon Collection is working with many local restaurants and cafés, including IHOP, California Pizza Kitchen, and Islands Restaurants, and has an official partnership with Denny’s. Morovati notes that the organization has helped “thousands” so far and has extended its reach all over the world, even to Hong Kong. She urges all families to get involved with their local restaurants and encourages parents to collect crayons and take their kids to see first-hand the impact donation has on that school.
“It’s a magical experience that we hope kids and parents can have together,” she says. “Plus, it really instills a sense of philanthropy at an early age.”
And with the recent coloring craze for adults, could Crayon Collection be coming to an adults-only restaurant near you? Maybe, but either way, Morovati thinks the move to embrace coloring at all ages is “amazing.”
“We are so happy that people are benefitting from what used to be a child’s pastime,” she laughs. “There are so many benefits to coloring that we decided to host our own adult coloring party next month. We are using it as an opportunity to raise funds to be able to support all the incredible restaurants that are now wanting to work with us!”
The mission of Crayon Collection goes beyond simply matching a need with a resource, however. In Morovati’s mind, this movement is about instilling change in how our children think.
“Ideally, the concept of saving a crayon for a child in need will also offer insight to people around the U.S. and beyond that what one person sees as trash really is another person’s treasure,” she says. “I love seeing it grow into something and teach our next generation a little something about giving back and re-purposing. My wish is for this next generation to have more mindfulness about the state of our planet. They are the generation that will determine a lot for us.”
Crayon Collection maintains that absolutely anyone — from individuals to libraries to churches — can get involved in a very simple way by collecting unused crayons for donation. You can learn more on their website, which lists detailed instructions on how to get your organization involved and how to set up your own crayon collection box.
No tips on how to get your kids to behave like civilized human beings on your next restaurant visit, however. You’re on your own for that.