Covering Louisiana

Jun 17, 2014 5:15 PM by associated press

Dulac woman teaches compassion through action

A smiling woman sometimes lines the roadside along Bayou Grand Caillou with a seemingly random assortment of items.

Abigail Danyleyko's sells and gives things away to help those in need and spread what she describes as the "positive green virus."

She and her husband, Brian, moved from Toronto to Dulac nearly a decade ago. Neighbors say the two have become an agent of charity for the community.

The Danyleykos are big proponents of upcycling, recycling, repurposing, regifting and reusing in an effort to help those in need.

Decorative wreaths made from old bicycle parts hang on the wall of the one-story house they used to live in. Nearby are baskets made from old computer monitors and a doghouse made from a dishwasher.

"There is so much stuff out there, and we really hate for anything to go to waste," Abigail said, showing pictures of plastic tablecloths she repurposed into ponchos for the homeless.

Their nonprofit is called Jewish FreeCycling, though it's less about a religious message and more about providing to those in need and encouraging "outrospection," Abigail said.

"If we are so busy concentrating on ourselves, we forget there is a whole globe out there we can learn from," she said. "Getting out of our comfort zone and saying, 'We want to learn from you.' That is what the focus of the non-profit is."

Through the years, they've built a reputation as people who can take something you don't need and get it to someone who does, said neighbor Serena Amaro.

"They are always willing to help people. The people around the neighborhood really love her," Amaro said.

She greets people with a kind hug and energetic smile.

"She treats everyone like she has known them forever," said Kacey Callahan, a friend who recently moved from Dulac to Houma. "She is energetic. She can be down, but she still has a big ol' smile on her face."

The Danyleykos sometimes take donated goods straight to shelters. Other items are sold, traded or given away. Any proceeds are used to further the charitable cause, Abigail said.

The repurposed goods can be something purely useful, like an old oven hood turned fire pit or something simply to brighten someone's day, like flowers made from newspaper.

Abigail said they work largely with transitional resources for those in need. Locally, they work with TARC, Good Samaritan Food Bank in Raceland, the local women's shelter, Habitat for Humanity and some New Orleans area charities.

Their commitment to recycling and getting as much value out of the world around them goes beyond repurposing items to providing sustenance.

They share a farm plot with a neighbor, splitting part of the harvest, which makes its way into the community.

They have also worked with fishermen, those who simply don't want to pick the fruit growing in their backyard and anybody willing to help to put food in the mouths of those who need it.

"She is an angel. She will do more for you than she will for herself," Callahan said.

The nonprofit is Abigail's main effort. Brian also repairs computers, and the two have more recently made efforts to further recycling and repurposing of electronics.

In all her dealings, Abigail said she tries to take money out of the equation because it's just another barrier to empowering others.

"There is something you can use for currency that is more valuable than a dollar bill," Abigail said. "That is your energy, compassion and ability to say that 'I have excess, and I want to give.'"

Before they moved to Dulac, Abigail was a law clerk and Brian ran a business.

"We had things. We had money, but we were always struggling with the thought that this isn't us. Then we came to a point where we said, 'This just isn't us,' and we sold off our things and said our focus is going to be our mission," Abigail said.

Living a life not concentrated on the accumulation of wealth is like "getting wings and flying," she said.

Three months after they came to Dulac, Hurricane Rita flooded their home. At the time, they were doing mission work in South America and returned to find most of their belongings ruined.

"We lived underneath the carport for the next six months," Abigail said.

She said some people reacted to their charitable travels by pointing out local needs. "So we stepped up our case, turning our attention to local needs, especially after the hurricane," Abigail said.

The two also said they have learned from and been amazed by warmth of the communities along the bayou.

"It is the 'Good Earth.' I find them amazing and resilient. They have taught us so much. It's almost like I can never repay them. They are the ones that put fish on our table, vegetables from their garden, shoes on our feet. ... They just saw a need and filled it."

Their next venture will be a Free Green Market, where the two will sell or give their repurposed items to those who need them.

"The philosophy is free is free. If they come in if they need something, it is theirs. If they would like to make a donation to pay it forward, we have no problem with that. If they want to bring something for us to repurpose, old furniture, broken wood chairs, bring it on," Abigail said.

The market is set to open after the July 4 weekend. Abigail said they will post more information soon on Craigslist, a common vehicle for their work.

"We may not be able to change the world, but we can make a difference in our community," Brian said.

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