Don’t toss it! Repurposing paper products a life-changing hobby for Amandla Chorus founder

  • Eveline MacDougall and her 13-year-old son Gillis cut out paper hearts, which she often places inside homemade cards, at their Northfield home on Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017. —Recorder Staff/Shelby Ashline

  • Eveline MacDougall cuts out a paper heart, which she often places inside homemade cards, at her Northfield home on Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017. —Recorder Staff/Shelby Ashline

  • Eveline MacDougall and her 13-year-old son Gillis display some of the gift boxes they've made from recycled paper products at their Northfield home on Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017. —Recorder Staff/Shelby Ashline

  • Some of the homemade gift boxes, greeting cards and envelopes Eveline MacDougall and her 13-year-old son Gillis have made from recycled paper products at their Northfield home on Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017. —Recorder Staff/Shelby Ashline

  • Eveline MacDougall uses this shelf to divide her homemade greeting cards into categories like "holiday," "family" and "peace and justice" at her Northfield home. Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017. —Recorder Staff/Shelby Ashline

Recorder Staff
Sunday, December 31, 2017

NORTHFIELD — What might have seemed like the simple receipt of a letter from a friend more than 15 years ago turned out to be a formative moment in Eveline MacDougall’s life.

Though the Northfield resident said she has no recollection of what was inside, the envelope itself caught her eye, having been made from an out-of-date calendar.

“It sparked something in me,” MacDougall said. “I thought, ‘How many old calendars have I tossed in the recycle bin when I could have been making envelopes?’ … It was like this light bulb came on over my head.”

That one envelope inspired MacDougall to take up a long-lasting hobby. Since then, she’s been making envelopes, gift bags, gift boxes that resemble Dunkin’ Donuts munchkin boxes, stationery and greeting cards. All are repurposed from used paper products that have been given to her, including calendars, wallpaper, wrapping paper, maps, catalogs and magazines.

Recycling turned fundraiser

While MacDougall’s projects give new life to old paper products that might be recycled or thrown away, they also take on another importance: MacDougall sells her creations to raise money for local nonprofits.

The pairing of her hobby and fundraising happened rather organically through the Amandla Chorus, of which MacDougall is founder and director. Several years ago, she said, the Amandla Chorus held a benefit for The Literacy Project and the Greenfield Farmers’ Market, and chorus members were brainstorming ways to maximize fundraising.

“I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll throw a few of my cards and envelopes on the bake sale table,’” she said. “It just snowballed from there.”

MacDougall sells her creations at Amandla Chorus concerts, earning a few dollars at a time. For example, MacDougall’s booth raised $61 for Puerto Rican residents affected by Hurricane Maria during a Dec. 10 benefit in Northfield.

“I’m not going to completely be saving the whales,” she said. “It’s little dribs and drabs.”

The gift of thoughtfulness

Sometimes, the cards and envelopes themselves are the gift. MacDougall recounted giving some to veterans with Soldier On in Leeds, or distributing them at her music workshops in Holyoke for individuals with head injuries. She loves to inspire the sheer delight she often sees on the faces of recipients.

“We’re used to envelopes, but they’re white, or maybe they’re lilac on a good day, or yellow,” she said. “But to see, here’s a moose standing in a river, and here’s my name next to it just for me ...

“The feedback is amazing,” she continued. “Maybe it’s an overstatement to say it’s life-changing, but I want to use that word because of the emotion people express in acknowledging they’ve received this from me.”

Plus, receiving handmade cards and envelopes has a way of piquing people’s curiosity, said MacDougall, who describes herself as being “on a one-woman mission to save the U.S. Postal Service.” She hopes to increase interest in sending letters, believing they offer an experience that can’t be replaced by sending a text, email or tweet.

A growing interest

As a way of sharing her hobby with others, MacDougall has offered workshops with children at the Dickinson Memorial Library in Northfield and with the elderly at The Arbors in Greenfield. MacDougall remembered how she and The Arbors residents made more than 700 handmade cards for Valentine’s Day that were distributed to Meals on Wheels recipients.

“Children love making them, older people love making them and everybody in between,” she said. “And everybody loves receiving them.”

MacDougall said it’s wonderful to facilitate other people’s creativity, while making life “more beautiful at little to no cost.” Other than glue and double-sided tape, MacDougall said, she doesn’t need to purchase anything. She describes herself as “an artistic bottomfeeder” in the sense that she uses whatever materials she can scrounge up.

Her hobby is a bit of a family affair. MacDougall’s 13-year-old son Gillis and her mother Céline have been known to craft with her, and sometimes, so do strangers.

“Whenever I think I’m going to be sitting at a meeting where people might be knitting, I bring my templates and calendars and just make 120 envelopes,” she said, adding that the people around her often ask to join in. “I’ve been known to whip these things out in line, anywhere.”

Despite feeling like she’s not very artistic, channeling most of her creative energy into music, MacDougall said her repurposing hobby gives her a different perspective.

“For me, visual arts are like, ‘I wish I’d gone to art school,’ ‘I wish I could draw,’” she said. “But now, with my recycled materials addiction, all of a sudden I feel like, ‘Oh, I can do art, too.’ I can put all these elements together to make something that no one else has ever made.”

Anyone interested in donating paper products to MacDougall are encouraged to contact her at 413-498-2974.