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58,000 Returns And Counting: Betty Presnell’s One-Woman Bottle & Can Drive



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Since last July, Betty Presnell has raised $2,900, one nickel at a time.

Presnell, a very longtime Newtown resident (“60½ years, off and on,” she said January 4), has been operating a one-woman bottle and can drive, with proceeds all being donated to local organizations.

The collection began as a way for the president of the Nunnawauk Meadows Residents Association (NMRA) to make up for the cancellation last year of that group’s largest annual fundraiser. It morphed into something that is also benefiting the town’s food pantry.

Presnell became president of NMRA in January 2020. Less than two months later, she faced a daunting challenge: what to do for fundraising after the group’s 2020 event was canceled.

For many years, the association has hosted a two-day tag/bake sale that funds the general NMRA account used to pay for guest speakers and programs.

“When we’re are not in this COVID stuff, once a month the residents association has a meeting, and we often have speakers,” she explained. “When we bring speakers in, or a DJ for entertainment, those speakers have to be paid. We have refreshments, and once a year we go out to a lunch, so the money that we raise goes to support the residents association that way.”

The group, she added, also uses some of those funds to donate to local fire companies, Newtown Volunteer Ambulance Corps, and FAITH Food Pantry, among others.

With COVID closing in on the area by mid-March, Presnell and the others on the RA board called off their summer event, even though it was still months away. By then, many other events were being canceled. Much of the world was going into lockdown.

“You have to start collecting stuff months ahead of time for a tag sale,” Presnell said this week. “Advertising and all that also has to start early. We knew it was not going to happen.”

By July, she said, “I thought ‘Oh my goodness, I’m supposed to be the one in charge of raising money.’

“We all raise money, but as president, I thought, I’m the one to head it up,” she added.

About five years ago, when she and her husband, Richard Merrill, lived on The Boulevard, Presnell raised funds for the American Diabetes Association with a bottle and can drive.

“I have a son and a granddaughter who have diabetes,” Presnell said this week. “That’s what brought this to mind.”

And so this summer, she turned to the Buy Nothing Newtown (BNN) Facebook page. The local chapter is part of an international network in which members are encouraged to “give and receive, share, lend, and express gratitude through a worldwide network of micro-gift economies in which the true wealth is the web of connections formed between people who are real-life neighbors,” according to the description on the local Facebook page.

On July 20, Presnell created a “Wish” post. She explained who she was, what she was looking for, and why. That first post alone generated at least 50 responses, and the collection was launched. BNN members offered donations by the bagful, some even offering as many as four 50-gallon bags filled with bottles and cans ready for redemption.

Concurrently, Presnell put notes into the monthly Nunnawauk Meadows newsletter along with the newsletter published by her church, Newtown United Methodist.

Still Going, Expanding

According to a post she shared on BNN in early September, the annual event at Nunnawauk Meadows averages $1,500 profit. That was the original goal of the bottle and can drive.

By December 20, the collection had reached over $2,500.

This week, she talked about surpassing that goal, and what she is now doing with money raised through the returnables.

“Once I had reached that first goal” of $1,500 for NMRA, and bottles and cans continued to arrive at her home — or she went to pick them up, which she has done for many who cannot or do not want to leave their home — Presnell decided to share the donations with FAITH Food Pantry.

The nondenominational pantry provides food, pet supplies, cleaning supplies, and other items to any Newtown resident.

“A lot of people in Newtown do depend on that,” Presnell said. “I am a volunteer there, so I see the need.”

Every Friday, she turns in money raised during the previous week for NMRA to the group’s treasurer, and each Tuesday she gives a donation to Lee Paulsen, president of the food pantry.

Presnell is also careful to note donation requests.

“If people designate which one they really want money to go to, I keep that noted and do that,” she said.

As the pandemic continues into 2021, Presnell is already thinking ahead to the summer tag and bake sale. “When COVID kept going, I set a new goal, to overlap the two years that I’ll be president” of the residents association, she said.

As of this week, the totals were $2,400 to NMRA and just over $500 to FAITH, she said.

Once she reaches $2,500 for NMRA’s coffers, Presnell will consider that part of her fundraiser completed. She will continue to collect bottles and cans, and from that point forward, donations will be divided between FAITH Food Pantry and the American Diabetes Association.

Readers are welcome to join the effort. Presnell and Merrill live in unit 1D of Nunnawauk Meadows, on 3 Nunnawauk Road.

“We’re the house across from the gazebo,” she said. “That’s what I tell everybody.”

Presnell has not received any complaints about an unsightly collection from neighbors, she said, because she does not leave cans and bottles resting long.

“I don’t let them pile up,” she said. “If I get the back of my car full, I go redeem them. I don’t let them accumulate, so there is not issue with a mess at Nunnawauk, and I just want to keep things going.”

Depending on the day and the donations, Presnell has occasionally been to Big Y World Class Market or Stop & Shop as many as four times in one day.

“They know me by now,” she said with a laugh.

Presnell takes a photo of every receipt she collects, and posts many of them on her Facebook page as well as the Buy Nothing Newtown page. The receipt photos are accompanied with thanks to the latest donors.

“I try to thank everybody,” she said. “I’ll either send a note after they drop off bottles, or I try to catch them and give them a Thank You note then.”

In late December, Presnell announced to BNN she will continue collecting returnables for at least another six months.

She confirmed that plan this week, but added she “will continue to collect for as long as people want to give.”

That could take a while, considering the response to her requests. Presnell calls the return “overwhelming,” in a very good way.

“People are so generous, and so nice,” she said Monday morning. “I’ve met a lot of nice people, and the generosity is unbelievable.”

To drop off returnable bottles or cans, visit 1D Nunnawauk Meadows. From Nunnawauk Road, use the second entrance into the complex (driving behind the community building); at the gazebo, look to the right (toward the east-southeast).

Longtime Newtown resident Betty Presnell has raised just over $2,900 for two local organizations, all through the redemption of bottles and cans. She launched the collection in July to cover the loss of Nunnawauk Meadows Residents Association’s canceled tag/bake sale. —photos courtesy Betty Presnell
Betty Presnell photographs every receipt and cashier screen each time she turns in cans and bottle for her ongoing fundraiser. These are all cash register screen shots following visits to Big Y World Class Market.
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