Describing herself as a “modern day Mary Poppins,” Pacific Beach resident Trisha Goolsby swoops in not with an umbrella, but with a bag of recycled cans.
And in her version of Poppins magic, she turns the recycled goods into books for children.
It’s all part of her unique effort — the Cans4Books Community Initiative — to provide as many free books to local youngsters as possible.
Goolsby said she was inspired to start the initative during the pandemic.
“I took unemployment for a month, thinking the lockdown would be over soon,” said Goolsby, an in-home educational consultant. “My roommate drank a lot of sparkling water during that time and it sparked an idea.”
When one of her neighbors needed help paying bills, several of the surrounding homes pitched in with their CRV recycling items — including her roommate’s water bottles. The money raised was enough to cover the neighbor’s bills.
So in late 2020 Goolsby decided to aim a bit bigger with another recycling goal.
“I thought I’d just try and collect cans from everyone. I asked my neighbors and the Military Village to donate and every day I ended up picking up recycling,” she said.
By the end of December 2020, she said Cans4Books took in 3,599 aluminum cans, 823 plastic bottles and 252 glass bottles.
With the money received from the recycling efforts, she purchased and donated more than 200 children’s books.
Goolsby said the recycling continues when she buys the books.
“I know thrifting is a wonderful resource; I can get a paperback for 59 cents and a hardback for a dollar at the Goodwill store, plus I get a teacher discount,” she said.
Goolsby said, on average, with a dozen cans she can purchase a used paperback; with 20 cans she can purchase a $1 thrifted hardback, and with the money from 300 recycled cans she can purchase a $15 brand new book.
She makes sure the entire community is represented in her purchases, and searches out local children’s book authors and books in different languages.
“I realized it was totally do-able. And it was so simplistic — there didn’t even have to be any contact with anyone,” she said. “Recycling also creates good, sustainable habits, which will help our youth as they get older.”
She said the recycling program is also another way to reallocate government funding, so that money earned from recycling efforts is filtered back into the community.
As word of her organization spread throughout Pacific Beach and beyond, Goolsby said she ended up spending a lot of time driving around.
“In the beginning, I sometimes would need to pick up eight to 10 bags of recycling at a time. Since I only have a small car, I would have to rent a large truck to get the larger loads,” she explained.
That issue was resolved with the help of several community businesses.
Drop-off locations in Pacific Beach include Randal’s Sandals at 1033 Barnett Dr. and Cancer Books Headquarters at 4057 Promontory St.
In addition to PB, Cans4Books now includes the neighborhoods of North Park, South Park, Ocean Beach, Point Loma, University City and The Village at NTC.
Goolsby has partnered with even more local organizations, such as Shore Buddies, a San Diego-based organization which makes stuffed animals from recycled plastic bottles and also donates books.
She also receives books from fellow members of the Pacific Beach Woman’s Club and the Pacific Beach Town Council.
“At the end of last year, we received and donated more than 3,000 books,” she said. “Up to this point this year, we have already donated more than 4,000 books.”
Carol Posey of Point Loma is just one of numerous residents appreciative of Goolsby’s efforts.
“It works out beautifully because we can donate our recycling and we don’t have to go anywhere to do it,” Posey said. “It also helps out the kids in the community with books, so it’s a win-win.
“Trisha is so enthusiastic and passionate about her cause; she really wants to help the community and the kids,” Posey added.
Husband-and-wife Rich Soublet and Lindsay Mineo of North Park also save their recyclables for Goolsby’s cause.
“Trisha has always been very enthusiastic, and encouraged us to get other people in our building to donate,” Mineo said. “She usually sends us a group text and picks it up from whoever has it ready. She makes it very easy, very convenient and I know it goes for a good cause.”
As part of her recycling efforts, Goolsby teams with BluLite Bonfires and PerfectFirst Beach Cleanups, meeting on the first and third Saturday of each month.
And like many of her other recycling efforts, she expanded her own goals for the cleanups.
“We are only conducting the beach cleanups for about an hour and a half at a time, so I wondered how we could continue to provide those resources to the community,” she said. “So I am committed to being on the PB Boardwalk every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.”
So far, Goolsby said she has been on the boardwalk several weekends in a row, resulting in more than 70 children’s books being donated and more bags of recycling being filled.
“I may extend my hours,” Goolsby said. “By creating a habitual space, it’s easy for people to grab a bag and fill it up. We have a reusable glove program, free bags and we educate the community on working together. All the little parts come together to create a much bigger impact.”
In her efforts to keep children involved with the recycling efforts, Goolsby can also be found with many of her small charges participating in street cleanups through Street Stewards, an organization in which individuals adopt neighborhood blocks and keep them clean of trash on a weekly basis.
And just as Mary Poppins sings “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun,” Goolsby brings a couple of tiny friends along for the beach and street cleanups. Rupert and RJ (short for Rupert Jr.) are a couple of stuffed monkeys. Since her clients’ children all know the pair of stuffed critters, it’s not much of a surprise they would be an integral part of her recycling efforts.
“Rupert is all about reading and kindness,” she said. “All the kids know him. RJ represents community and fundraiser.”
Similar to Free Little Libraries, in which residents set up book-sharing boxes at their homes which are available at all times, Goolsby said she hopes to place Rupert’s Bench Libraries in playgrounds all around the area.
The benches will be made out of recycled plastic and beach trash, and feature child-sized bookshelves on the side.
Goolsby herself has a Free Little Library outside her home and has set up three this year through Cans4Books. But she explained that many of the libraries are often filled with books for adults. She plans to keep her bench libraries filled with children’s books.
There is another difference between her benches and the Free Little Libraries.
“Because we are using recycling, I don’t expect people to exchange the books,” she said. “I want the kids to be able to get the books and keep them. With this concept, there will never not be books distributed in the community.”
Goolsby’s interest in expanding children’s reading opportunities ties in with her career. In August 2020 she founded Stellar At-Home Educaitonal Consultants, in which she provides educational services and consulting in children’s homes. Her stated goal is to help young children “be the best they can be.”
Goolsby said she is passionate about providing developmentally appropriate education for her young charges. Making sure kids have plenty of children’s books readily available is one of her core beliefs.
“The first five years of their lives, children are very impressionable; by providing them with positive skill sets, they are also provided with a strong foundation that will only continue to grow stronger as they grow older,” she said.
Goolsby has a Masters in Education with a concentration in early childhood and early childhood special education from Radford University in Virginia. Early childhood refers to pre-kindergarten through third grade. Early childhood special education is through age 5.
“Ever since I was little, I’ve always wanted to be a teacher,” she said. “Once I switched to early childhood, however, I fell in love.”
Goolsby said her 10 years as a nanny and nearly as many teaching in preschool taught her the importance of teaching children not just in a school setting, but in their home environment.
Joey and Amanda Ferrante agree. Goolsby has been working with their older children, Arabella, 5, and Jojo, 3, from their Point Loma home for about two years. Louie, 9 months, is a recent addition to the family.
“From my perspective, she has taught them that every moment in life is a moment you can take to learn, and to share kindness with everyone,” Amanda Ferrante said.
“She taught me it’s important to recycle and keep the earth healthy,” Arabella Ferrante said.
The scale of Goolsby’s recycling efforts and belief in the power of books for children is not for the faint of heart.
It must be some of the Mary Poppins magic allowing for Goolsby to accomplish so much. Her days are typically busy with picking up recycling from various locations, taking it to the CRV Recycling Center, distributing books, running her consulting business, attending local events and spreading the word about the Cans4Books Community Initiative.
“This is not for everyone, but I just love it, I get so much joy from it,” Goolsby said.