Isabella Borruso stands in front of one of three storage units packed to the brim with bottles and cans. Not pictured: 4+ full garages. (Photo courtesy Isabella Borruso)
Isabella Borruso stands in front of one of three storage units packed to the brim with bottles and cans. Not pictured: 4+ full garages. (Photo courtesy Isabella Borruso)

What started as a way to make some extra cash during quarantine turned into a community-wide passion project for high school senior Isabella Borruso.

GRAND LEDGE, MI — Incoming high school senior Isabella Borruso began collecting cans during quarantine as a way to fill up her free time and make some extra cash. 

She didn’t know that within a matter of weeks, she’d have $10,000 worth of empties from Lansing area residents who donated their deposits toward Lansing’s Out of the Darkness Walk with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). 

Bottle returns start up again today in Michigan, but before you run out to cash in your own hoard, check out how Borruso and her team plan to deal with over four garages and three storage units’ worth of empties.

RELATED: You Can Finally Get Your Hair and Nails Done Again, Michigan

“When I first started this, I was like, I’m not working right now, I’d like to make some extra money,” said Borruso. “That’s when I posted in a neighborhood Facebook page and I saw so many people were willing to give me their cans just because I was bored and trying to make money. And then I said, okay, this can turn into a fundraiser.” 

Borruso immediately thought of AFSP, an organization whose mission is close to her heart. 

“I have been involved in the Out of the Darkness Walk for the last three years,” said Borruso. “I lost a friend to suicide, which is how I got involved, and then I went through a personal struggle, which is also part of why I’m involved. 

“I joined the committee this year and I started seeing how their efforts have been put on hold due to COVID. They’re talking about how we can’t get sponsorships right now just because we don’t want to be asking small businesses for money when they simply don’t have it. 

“So I was like, I’ve got to figure out some way that we can still get these funds or else our walk won’t be able to happen and we won’t be able to get the much-needed help for those that are in need.” 

READ: The Pandemic Has Deepened Michigan’s Mental Health Crisis. These Hotlines Are Here To Help.

Can Drive? Can Do

A bottle and can drive offered itself as an ideal solution: People needed empties out of their homes while bottle returns were closed due to COVID, the Walk needed funds, and Borruso had both time to fill and the motivation to organize a bottle and can drive. 

When she started spreading the word in area Facebook groups, the project caught on.  

“I originally posted in a bunch of different groups,” said Borruso. “The whole community, Grand Ledge, Delta Township, Dimondale.” 

Reports estimate that Michiganders have amassed some $50 million in empties since the pandemic began. Locals in those Facebook groups were all too eager to pitch in theirs for a good cause. 

Donations from residents started coming in at anywhere from one to fifty dollars’ worth of cans, but Borruso said the average residential donation was about four bags. She’s also had a few larger donations from local businesses.  

CHECK OUT: WATCH: This Small Business In Michigan Is Spreading Joy With New Retail Appointments

Running on Full

Borruso’s own garage was the first to fill up. (Photo courtesy Isabella Borruso)

Soon, however, the remarkable outpouring of donations soon took over Borruso’s garage. That’s when fellow committee members, friends and the community offered storage space so she could keep collecting for AFSP. 

“I’ve been using my friend’s garage and my sister’s garage, then my garage,” said Borruso, “then one of the other committee members, we’ve been using her garage. And then I know … a friend that has a storage unit type thing in the back of his house, we’ve been using his and a couple other people’s. We have a storage unit in Charlotte that we already paid for just to store some stuff from the Walk and we’ve been piling some in there as well.” 

But some of Borruso’s biggest supporters when it came to storage were Michigan self-storage businesses. 

“I want to give a big thank you to MySpace Self Storage and Comet Mini Storage LLC for donating storage units to us when we ran out of storage space,” said Borruso. “They were great to work with, and I highly recommend them if you are looking to rent a storage unit.” 

The three storage units those businesses collectively donated? They’re full, too. 

Even though Borruso’s can and bottle collection is spread out all over the Grand Ledge area, she’s hoping all those empties will come together now that Michigan stores can accept can and bottle returns again. 

Only problem? Returns are be limited to $25 per day in Michigan. 

“That’s gonna be a little rough,” said Borruso. “I’ve tried to call some local places to see if I could schedule a time to just take them all back, but so far I’ve only gotten nos. Even though that’s not the $25, I’m thinking that if they could schedule a day with us, it would be the same as a bunch of people coming in and doing their $25 caps, which would honestly probably be safer. So I’m hoping that a local retailer can come through for us and help us schedule a day.”

Whatever plan of attack Borruso and her team end up taking to deposit the bottles and cans, their aim is to deliver the funds to AFSP as efficiently as possible. 

“I know that with losing out on the sponsorships, we’re going to be taking a bit of a hit and I’m hoping we can still have these walks due to COVID. We don’t know what the precautions are going to be yet, or if we can have them in general,” said Borruso. “So even if we can’t have the walk, all the money will go towards AFSP and helping people get the much needed resources. With this money, it’s going to go a long way.” 

Borruso said she plans to wrap up the bottle and can drive soon, but the group is still in need of support. Visit this page to make a cash donation toward Lansing’s Out of the Darkness Walk with ASFP.

UP NEXT: PHOTOS: Pride Is Adding Some Much Needed Color and Hope to This Michigan Community