Warrior Center recycles camping gear left by festival fans

OKEECHOBEE — The third year of the Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival, held March 1-4 in northeastern Okeechobee County, followed a pattern established in the first two years. Fans carpool from all over the United States or fly into a Florida airport and rent a vehicle.

They stop in Okeechobee to load up on supplies and camping gear. (They didn’t have room in the car to bring it with them.) The trip from Okeechobee stores to the festival grounds is made carefully, with vehicles cramped for space and passengers holding supplies on their laps. Sometimes camping gear is precariously strapped to the roof of the vehicle for the short drive to Sunshine Grove.

The fans set up camp at the festival and stay there until the last concert ends.

When it’s time to pack up and go, many festival fans don’t have the space or the means to take all of the new camping gear with them. So a lot of tents, sleeping bags, shade canopies and coolers are left behind.

But unlike some festivals, where abandoned items are doomed to be hauled to a landfill, OMF has found a way to make sure the camping gear is recycled to help those in need.

Volunteers from Warrior Center collect the camping gear, clean it up and store it for distribution to homeless veterans and others in need.

According to Bianca Keefe of the Warrior Center, in addition to helping veterans, some gear collected from the 2017 event was taken to Haiti by Moore-2-Life ministries, which makes regular mission trips to help the people there. Some of the camping gear also went to those left homeless by the 2017 hurricanes.

This year, according to Greg Maynard, the Warrior Center picked up truckloads of gear — totally more than 4,000 pounds — most of it almost new, used just four days.

The sleeping bags will be laundered, the coolers washed, the tents neatly packed up. The gear will be safely stored, ready to distribute when needed throughout the year.

Next March, at the 2019 OMF, the cycle can start again.

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