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For Ruth Libby, one man's trash is truly her treasure.

The Scarborough, Maine, native has spent the past 10 years taking the things that businesses would otherwise throw out--notebooks, computers, office equipment, paper, furniture--and giving them to teachers.

"Money shouldn't have to come out of their pockets to pay for supplies because they really don't get paid enough to do it," Ms. Libby said last week. "It's neat to see the teachers come in and take what they need to provide for students."

All of the supplies provided to teachers--at no cost--come from businesses in the state.

"I went to companies and said, 'I'm looking for just the things you'd throw away anyway,'" she said.

Ruth Libby

Business ranging from industrial and recycling companies to retail stores have been eager to donate. In fact, a local insurance company, Unum, last year made Ms. Libby an offer she couldn't refuse. "They came to me and said, 'You are doing what we as a large company are trying to do--how about we give you the money to do this.'"

It was a solution that has worked out well for Ms. Libby, who worked odd jobs in between collecting supplies.

She took the grant dollars supplied by Unum and used them to recruit more businesses. So far, she has roughly 70 companies on board.

Through word-of-mouth, what began as a small-time volunteer effort run out of the basement of her house has grown into a big-time operation. In 1995, the Scarborough district gave Ms. Libby a place--a closed elementary school--to store her supplies.

In the past year, Ms. Libby's efforts have saved educators more than $200,000 because many items didn't have to be purchased brand new. She estimates that she has helped between 180 and 200 schools across the state.

Not one to rest on her laurels, Ms. Libby is gearing up for next year. She has started to send paperwork to schools to let them know about her service, and by this time next year, she will have schools signed up. She'll keep an exact account of who is taking what, and she'll be able to tell a school district how much it saved.

"It's a lot of work--but I enjoy it," she said. "I do it for the kids and the teachers."

--ADRIENNE D. COLES [email protected]

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