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Can Man cashes it in


Since 1994, Dave “Can Man” Luce has been collecting cans and bottles to raise money for Parkrose students. He stages monthly collections at Parkrose Middle School with different high school groups' help. In addition, he and a few friends make 222 individual pick-ups of returnable items every month.
Mid-county Memo photo/Amber McKenna
The Parkrose Tennis Team was the beneficiary at this monthly collection held last summer.
People who want to help the Can Man come in all sizes.
Mid-county Memo photos/Tim Curran
Dave Luce knows cans. And bottles, plastic and glass.

He knows that a large garbage bag can fit 400 cans. He knows he gets $20 for that bag. He knows the recycle center will not take more than 100 cases of beer bottles at a time and he knows that he can haul no more than 37 bags of cans between his truck and trailer.

Luce's extensive knowledge of cans is no surprise: after all, he is Dave “Parkrose Can Man” Luce. He has been fundraising for Parkrose by collecting cans for over 10 years. When his sons graduated from Parkrose High School in 1994 and 1995, Luce began his can-drive efforts to raise money for their Senior All-Night Party. A few years later, he was called for more help.

“The Boosters Can Drive wasn't organized, so they asked me in 1999 to oversee that, and I started a monthly drive,” Luce said. “We collected $150 to $400 worth of cans a month starting out, now we bring in $400 to $900 a month.”

Different groups of students from various Parkrose clubs and groups help each month; with proceeds going toward their group's activities, such as a third grade class field trip.

Luce explained that the can drives have also spawned a yearly scholarship in which two students who have helped with the drives are each awarded a $1,000 scholarship.

“Dave is amazing, he brings in between $15,000 to $20,000 per year to Parkrose kids,” Karen Fischer Gray, Parkrose School District Superintendent said.

In addition to the drive, Luce has 55-gallon drums placed at 222 different homes and businesses throughout Parkrose and beyond. He regularly collects the cans from these bins and then sorts and turns in the cans for the Parkrose Senior All-Night Party.

He said people might hear about his barrels from someone they live near or know at work, and call him to request one. Places like Bob Brown Tire Center and Pacific NW Federal Credit Union play host to Luce's barrels.

“People fill the drums, call me, and I sort them, bag them and make an appointment at OBRC,” Luce said.

OBRC is the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative located at 3900 NW Yeon Ave. Formed in 2009, this recycling co-op picks up bottles and cans from grocery stores statewide and takes recyclables in large quantities from individuals like Luce.

Luce unknowingly built a fan base as a result of his efforts. His admirers presented him with a Parkrose High School letterman jacket in June 2010 and others created a fan page for “Big Dave the Can Man” on Facebook in October 2010.

Before he became a can-collecting, fundraising machine, Luce, now 72, worked in general maintenance for the Port of Portland for 34 years, retiring in 1994. A native Portlander, Luce grew up in the city's Southeast area and attended Cleveland High School. His wife Barbara also has a passion for helping kids, and works as an educational assistant at Shaver Elementary School. He said decades ago, when his sons were in Cub Scouts, he first found his knack for fundraising. “We used to do raffles for the Cub Scouts and we paid for every kid's dues and for every kid, parent and sibling to go to the Blue and Gold Banquet,” Luce said. “I fundraise.”

In addition, he is still working arduously to raise money for local students. According to his own calculations, between his can collecting and drives, over $17,000 was raised last year to benefit the Bronco Boosters and Senior All-Night Party.

“Dave is an extremely generous person and he has given to the Parkrose community and schools until it hurt,” Allison Newman-Woods of the Boosters said. “I have really enjoyed working with him and he's taught me that the best reward is the friends you make while giving back.”

The work Luce does takes time, strength and determination - and the help of his old Chevy truck, adorned with a personalized “Can Man” license plate.

Luce said friends Gerald Martin, Joe DeMir, and Richard Bauer, all in their seventies, regularly help him.

“Ger helps oversee aluminum, I do plastic,” he said.

For a Saturday can drive to be successful, Luce said he is on his feet from 6:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday and Monday, he finishes sorting and separating the cans before taking them to OBRC on Tuesday. Additionally, throughout the month Luce picks up collections from businesses and homes with barrels, then sorts and bags those recyclables.

And though Luce has greatly enjoyed spending time with students and giving back to the Parkrose community, the can drive in August will be his last.

“I just can't do it anymore, it's tough on me,” he said.

Luce said he will continue to collect cans and bottles from the 222 barrels he has placed locally but will no longer run the first-Saturday drives.

“I know we will sorely miss him and his amazing fundraising for the kids. It will be super hard to figure out how to replace his work,” Fischer Gray said. “Dave is a true Parkrose hero.”

Newman-Woods seconded Fischer Gray's sentiment and said it will be difficult to replicate the funds that Luce raises through the can drives.

Numbers at a glance:
Year Money raised by the “Can Man”*
2007 $12,000
2008 $15,000
2009 $15,000
2010 $18,000
2011 $17,500

*Estimates made by Dave Luce

If you would like to place a recycling barrel at your business or home call Dave Luce at 503-255-3745. The first Saturday can drives at Parkrose Middle School will continue until August 2012.
While the can drives may stop, Luce can still be seen by Parkrose students attending volleyball matches, basketball games and other events.

Fischer Gray said Luce was made an honorary employee, and can always be spotted at sporting events.

“I get free hot dogs and I have a lifetime pass to all the games,” Luce said. “I have a lot of fun.”

That fun-loving spirit, friendly demeanor, and passion for students has served Luce - and the Parkrose community - well for decades.

Luce has learned a lot in his years collecting cans. He learned how to estimate the number of two liter bottles that will fit in a bag and which houses to bring dog treats to when picking up bins. There is one thing, though, Luce has learned above all.

“I know what everybody in Parkrose drinks!” he said.
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