At top: Terry McDonald with wife Jacque, left, and SVdP Deputy Director Bethany Cartledge after accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association of Oregon Recyclers on Oct. 10. File photos at bottom: McDonald working in SVdP’s mattress and book recycling operations.

Terry McDonald, the longtime, visionary executive director of St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County (SVdP), is the recipient of a Sustainable Oregon Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association of Oregon Recyclers (AOR). The AOR honored McDonald Oct. 10 during its 2023 Sustainable Oregon conference at Salishan Coastal Resort in Gleneden Beach.

The Sustainable Oregon Awards “recognize individuals and organizations who have made exceptional contributions in the field of materials management in Oregon,” according to OAR. The Lifetime Achievement Award reflects McDonald’s remarkable impact on waste diversion, environmental stewardship and the recycling industry during his 52-year SVdP career.

“Terry has created an incredible legacy over the last 50 years, and developed one that is sustainable and continues to grow,” said SVdP Deputy Director Bethany Cartledge in her introductory remarks at the award presentation. “Terry has leveraged the revenues from SVdP’s recycling operations and thrift stores into addressing the homelessness and affordable-housing crises in our communities. Under his inspired leadership, SVdP has become a community cornerstone in providing a hand up for the most vulnerable among us.”

Thrift stores and so much more

McDonald has led the Eugene-based nonprofit agency for almost 39 years, since assuming the executive director role in 1984. His road to entrepreneurial leadership began with a tool employed by many nonprofits — the thrift store — and that led to the small empire of reuse/recycling businesses now under SVdP’s umbrella. This includes DR3 Recycling, the first commercially viable U.S. mattress recycler when SVdP established it in 1999; it remains the nation’s largest.

SVdP’s operations today encompass four mattress-recycling facilities in Oregon and California; 13 St. Vinnie’s retail-thrift stores; a used-car lot; an appliance renovation and recycling shop; and online storefronts selling quality discarded books, clothing, jewelry and more. McDonald has forged relationships with retailers and municipalities across the nation, and even overseas, to recover and sell surplus furniture and other items that would have ended up in landfills.

Through these and other opportunistic business ventures brought to life through his creative entrepreneurial vision, McDonald has relentlessly strived to extract value from items previously seen as junk. Under his leadership, SVdP also has earned wide acclaim for innovative recycling and upcycling efforts based on a broad array of recovered materials. These include operating a recycled-glass foundry, upcycling used candles into wax bricks, and creating a line of upcycled fashions based on discarded clothing — all to support SVdP’s core human-services mission.

Recycling supports SVdP services

When it comes to traditional materials recycling, SVdP recycled more than 22 million pounds per year on average between 2020 and 2023 (including mattress components in California). The agency recycled nearly 26 million pounds of material in Oregon alone in the years 2020-2022. That included 8,665,918 pounds of metal and aluminum; 6,467,114 pounds of mixed paper, paper fiber and cardboard; 6,278,748 pounds of rags and textiles; 1,415,100 pounds of wood; 1,272,336 pounds of electronic waste; and 642,286 pounds of various plastics.

While on a smaller scale but of considerable importance in pollution prevention, McDonald also led SVdP’s forays into reclaiming ozone-depleting CFC refrigerant gases and recycling environmentally troublesome expanded polystyrene blocks (aka Styrofoam).

With the funds generated from reuse and recycling, SVdP has become the largest human-services nonprofit in Lane County, serving more than 35,000 people annually with emergency and self-sufficiency services. More than 50 percent of its annual $55 million budget derives from income earned through its sustainable business ventures. SVdP’s diverse array of social enterprises also employ more than 650 full-time workers in Oregon and California.

Rewards for a career well spent

Ever the hands-on humanitarian leader and never one to rest on his laurels, McDonald also would never let something like AOR’s Lifetime Achievement Award go to his head. But only two days after receiving it, he also accepted a “Lifetime of Leadership & Vision” award from SVdP during a fundraiser in Eugene for the McDonald Community Vision Fund named in his honor.

It’s only fitting that such accolades pile up for McDonald at the tail end of a remarkable career in which he’s spent decades at the leading edge of recycling and responsible resource stewardship. Now, as he nears retirement and a transition into an emeritus director role by year’s end, he remains hard at work ensuring that his vast institutional knowledge and spirit of service pass on through Cartledge and the rest of the SVdP team.

As his lifetime of service has shown, McDonald is a man who knows the value of things and insists that nothing be allowed to go to waste.

— Do you appreciate Terry McDonald’s lifetime of service? Please consider clicking the linked button above to donate money in support of SVdP’s McDonald Community Vision Fund named in Terry’s honor, or give to specific program areas such as affordable housing or homeless and emergency services. You can also volunteer your time to help carry forward Terry’s vision of SVdP as a catalyst for community good.