To Top

Meet Judith Toepel of reInterpret in La Mesa

Today we’d like to introduce you to Judith Toepel.

Judith, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Sixteen years ago, through the teachers at my daughter’s Reggio-inspired family daycare center, I began to learn about the importance of open-ended materials or “loose parts” in learning environments. At the time I was an interior design consultant who regularly used many small material samples, like carpet, paint, and solid surface, as part of my business. When I would donate the samples that I no longer needed to the daycare, I got to see first hand what children could create when the possibilities were limitless.

Soon I learned more about the Reggio Emilia region of Italy, the learning philosophy of its early childhood development centers, and Remida – a manufacturing waste collection center promoting the idea that waste materials can be resources.

Eventually, one of the teachers at the daycare and I decided that San Diego needed our own Remida, and so we created reInterpret!

Naturally, I reached out to many of my contacts and colleagues in the design community offering an alternative to throwing away material samples. Over the years reInterpret has branched out to local manufacturers, distributors, and retailers as well as a few national corporations, to collect clean reusable waste.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I wasn’t anticipating some of the challenges we encountered. For example, companies are not always set up to sort out reusable waste from trash or recyclables, and they may not have space at their location to stage a collection area. Furthermore, they may be reluctant to add waste sorting to the employee’s responsibilities.

We are always challenged with finding space for storage and display of the materials. reInterpret is not an income-generating business that has an ample budget for rent. We relied for years on the Santee School DIsctrict for our storage and studio space in their Cajon Park Annex Building, but we recently had to move out of their space to make room for a new special education program. We are currently occupying a storage unit at the La Mesa Storquest. It is fine for the time being, but we really need a space that will accommodate more materials while providing room for our workshops.

Finally, I was surprised to experience only limited support from our region’s waste reduction advocates. They focus most of their attention on recycling centers and food waste digestors. They promote zero waste goals but downplay the importance of reuse.

We’d love to hear more about your organization.
reInterpret is an all-volunteer, California 501(c)3 non-profit organization that believes cast-off materials from San Diego area businesses and residents have a second life as valuable open-ended parts for limitless creative and educational opportunities. We provide San Diego area teachers, child care-givers, artists, students and creators with easy access to these versatile materials.

We resolve community challenges such as:

• Businesses and individuals that want to reduce waste and may not have access to recycling services need an alternative to landfills.

• Some schools allocate only symbolic funds to art materials and supplies. Due to a lack of funding, students may not have access to creative opportunities. Teachers often spend hundreds of dollars of their own money on classroom supplies.

reInterpret collects clean, reusable cast-off material from industry and individuals and distributes it to the community for use as learning tools and art supplies. We warehouse the donated material and maintain a space where participants “shop” for supplies and engage in fun and educational activities.

Our group of volunteers includes artists/craftspeople, those who are concerned about reducing waste in our community, and child development specialists. We are all personally invested in reInterpret’s mission.

reInterpret is the only organization of its kind in the San Diego County area.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
In the short term, we will continue to look for a space that will accommodate a growing supply of reusable materials – ideally 2,000-3,000 SF in central San Diego County. Additionally, we would also like to purchase a large delivery vehicle to enable us to easily pick up large loads of materials.

In the long term, we hope to become a well-known alternative to the landfill for items that cannot be easily recyclable and grow our membership to include every school and child development center in San Diego County.


  • Annual Individual Membership – $50
  • Annual Site Membership w/ multiple teachers – $50, plus $25 per teacher
  • Annual Family Membership $25
  • Annual Gold Sustaining Membership – $30

Contact Info:

Suggest a story: SDVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

More in