For Marja Barron, recycling means a lot more than saving up newspaper, aluminum cans and glass to haul to a recycling center.
Secretary to M.C. Lin of the chemistry department faculty, Barron has taken the concept of recycling to new heights in her three years at Emory. Her efforts, however, result in more than the diversion of would-be garbage from shrinking landfill space.
Barron coordinates donations of women's professional clothing on campus for use by residents of the Fulton County Shelter for Battered Women. But the women don't keep the clothing.
"If a woman in a battered women's shelter has learned word processing, or if she had a profession before and is trying to go back to work, the shelter gives her an outfit for the day, including a watch, jewelry and earrings," explained Barron, a member of the Emory Recycles Steering Committee. "Then she gives it back that night and it's put back in the shelter so that someone else can use it for a job interview."
The most dire need of the battered women's shelter now, Barron said, is women's career clothes size 12 and up. For several years, Emory community members have been dropping off clothing donations for various shelters on the loading dock of the Atwood Chemistry Center, and Barron takes some of the clothing to the shelter. Barron asks that all donated clothing be clean and folded, and clearly labeled. She can be reached at 727-2824 to arrange for donations.
Barron's understanding of the psychological trauma experienced by battered women came to her early in life, but not through a battering situation. As a child in World War II Finland, Barron learned to keep a change of clothing folded neatly by her bed before she went to sleep, in case an air raid occurred in the middle of the night and the family had to get to a bomb shelter fast.
During the war, Barron's mother worked in a clothes bank, providing clothing for people who had to leave their homes at a moment's notice with only what they could carry with them. She sees a similarity between those victims of war and the victims of prolonged abuse.
"When someone is in a battering situation," Barron said, "they can't sleep well because they don't know when the abuser is going to come in or what mood he or she is going to be in. I have great compassion for these people. We have had calls from phone booths from women in nightgowns and slippers. This is why, when they come into the shelter, we often give them everything from underwear on up."
Her commitment to donating items to shelters so that others can use them stems from two important philosophies Barron learned as a child in Finland: sharing what you have with those who have less, and reusing what you have rather than throwing it away.
When Barron was 8, Russia was launching an attack on Finland during World War II. Because the city she lived in was a prime target for Russian bombardment, Barron and many other children were sent to live with families in the countryside. It was there that Barron saw her foster family take other families into their home, even when they had little space to give.
"I also learned this from my grandmother, who was Seventh Day Adventist and a strong influence on me," Barron said. "She taught me that if we have something, we have to share it with people who have less."
Her family also taught her the value of recycling, even when it comes to one's final resting place. "In Finland, it is strongly felt that we should not damage nature," Barron said. "We are privileged to be using those resources. They also feel that people are pieces of nature. In Finland, the caskets are biodegradable. After 20 years there is nothing left in the ground, so you can bury the next generation in the same place. My father's family has a grave that has three generations in it. That way you don't consume so much land, and the people act as fertilizer. In due course, some of the molecules filter through the soil, go up, become clouds and come down. So everything is recycled, people included."
One of Barron's latest recycling projects is making tote bags out of denim for women in the shelters, so they have something to carry their lunches in when they get a new job. Consequently, throwing away denim has become taboo in the chemistry building, at least as long as Marja Barron is around.
Editor's note: In addition to adult and children's clothing and money, some of the items most commonly needed at local shelters include suitcases, towels, shampoo, soap, lotion, personal hygiene items and MARTA tokens. Several agencies that need this type of assistance include: Women's Resource Center to End Domestic Violence, (404) 699-9436; Council on Battered Women, (404) 870-1766; and the Cobb County Battered Women's Shelter, (770) 427-3390.