Not-for-profit gathers, cleans carts before returning them

Of all the items left on the streets, walkways and wooded plots of Kitsap County, stolen shopping carts are among the most recognizable.

Matthew Boisson, like many Kitsap residents, can tell you first-hand where to find their many hiding places or where they lie in plain sight. He can tell you the different colors that often signify what stores they belong to, the materials each is made of, what security measures are both present and not, their often unsavory contents and where they are “misplaced” most often.

“We often say that they’re grazing,” he said on a tour of several hot spots for carts across Silverdale. “They go out to the field and just don’t come back for a while.”

It’s that common knowledge that Boisson has used to shape and motivate his mission of cleaning up his county, a mission that has developed into the organization Sponsor-A-Can. “I had originally wanted to do general garbage collection, and someone asked if I had considered shopping carts,” he said. “I replied that I was considering a minor in that.”

Sponsor-A-Can was officially formed this year and operates out of Silverdale, largely focusing on the cleaning and returning of carts to their original destinations. Shopping carts are described by the organization as “one of the most visible by-products of a population in poverty.”

Boisson said in his impromptu tour that the more carts you saw in one location, the greater the chances were that a camp was not too far away. “You can see the other signs as well, where some man-made paths and such are and where they decide to ‘park’ their carts together,” he said. “It’s impossible not to notice it after a while.”

It’s not the first organization to work in cart removal in Kitsap, but how Boisson said his organization separates itself from the rest is the cleaning aspect as well as keeping the priority on all carts instead of just individual stores.

Partnering with a local car wash, the organization is able to haul the collected carts and hose them down. They are restored as much as possible there before being returned to the stores.

“It’s become a tremendous safety hazard,” Boisson said about carts being returned unclean. “One of the biggest question marks is making sure insurance can cover (county employees) and then figuring out if insurance will cover us. Most of the homeless we work with are great, but there are those risks.”

The mission to gain public support, which would alleviate some of the costs of providing the service, has been largely successful when speaking with county-level organizations. The chamber of commerce, the Clear Creek Trail Task Force and the county’s Board of Commissioners have all reportedly expressed interest in the nonprofit to the point of it being considered for a pilot run as a county-sponsored program.

The same success cannot be said yet for city-level conversations. Outside of meetings with Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson, cities like Bremerton and Port Orchard continue to point Boisson elsewhere. “They just said to go talk to the cops about it, and we’re already in a state where we already aren’t upholding many laws,” he said. “Cities have, for the most part, been hard to get ahold of and talk to.”

He still hopes that collaboration with local government to create a solution that avoids any ordinance will occur, but with costs continuing to increase in a fragile economy, funding is more important than ever. “My hope was that we could get enough community support. People would pay $10 or whatever to help collect carts and garbage. Gas alone has us spending a lot of money each time we go out, and every dollar helps,” he said.