Tammy Monette, (Van Pelt and Opie Library, Facilities)

A smiling woman wears a mask and a Michigan Tech polo shirt at the front of a Library desk where the toys she has collected are piled.

“The Cans for Kids–Toys for Tots idea started 10 years ago when I was working in Wadsworth Hall as a custodian on the second floor and just couldn’t believe all the cans and bottles being thrown away. I came up with the idea to collect them, and put some garbage cans out and signs up. The students were super receptive. I think we were all kind of shocked by how much we actually collected. I did the actual ‘returning’—and still do. 

The first couple of years, we donated the money to local charities. Seven years ago, we started partnering with Toys for Tots for fall semester and Husky FAN (food access network) for spring semester. That way our outreach included our local community and our campus. In the 2018-19 school year, we collected over $1,100 in cans! 

After working at Wads for 10 years, wanting a change but not wanting to leave the energy of the students, I transferred to the Library in May 2019. The Library staff were very supportive and the can collecting continued. Last holiday we collected a record-breaking $553!

In the midst of our 2020 Drop a Can–Be A FAN spring semester collection for the food pantry, COVID-19 hit and campus operations shut down. Can and bottle return centers closed. I had bags of returnables piled high in a corner of my garage and seriously thought about ending the chapter on this kind of fundraising. But in July, the return centers at local stores reopened the returnable section with a $25 daily limit and I started hauling them in again. 

This semester, campus is extremely different, to say the least. The usual hustle and bustle of the Library is replaced with quiet, masked visitors and a sadness of sorts. Can collecting continues at a snail’s pace compared to pre-pandemic. Thankfully, outside donations have fueled the project. Former co-workers, some Library staff, and random anonymous drop-offs have contributed to a surprising new record of over $650 for the Cans for Kids–Toys for Tots. Unbelievable!

The toys I choose are geared more toward the ‘believers’ as far as age goes. I usually have a cash donation as well to help cover any of the gaps that the Toys for Tots elves need to fill. The toys are picked up by Jim Mattson, the area Toys for Tots chairman and a retired Chem Eng professor from Tech! He’ll pick up this year’s collection on Monday, December 14.

My favorite part of working at Tech is the students. Throughout the past 15 years, I’ve been a cheerleader, mentor, therapist, mother, counselor, and friend. I have listened to countless stories, shared endless laughs, and offered up a whole lot of prayers for our students.

I may not be in one of the higher-paid positions at MTU, but dollar for dollar I have one of the most rewarding jobs—direct, daily contact with these young people. My hope has always been that I planted a seed with our students and someday they’ll see a Toys for Tots box or food pantry collection and donate!

For me, the holidays are about family, tradition, gratitude, laughter, and love. I am so blessed to have three grandbabies now. Through them I get to relive all the magic of Christmas again!”–Tammy Monette