It took two hours of searching through some 5,000 pounds of ankle-deep garbage on the tipping floor of Sanitary District #1 on Saturday, but Jodi Elder of Woodmere found what she was looking for: the diamond-studded wedding band she had accidentally thrown out with her recycling.
“Its amazing,” Elder said this week. “Somebody was looking out for me that day. Maybe my mother.”
“I never thought in a million years that we would find it, but I felt we should try,” said James Vilardi, chairman of the Five Towns garbage disposal district, who picked through the refuse with the Elder family. “This was like the proverbial needle in a haystack.”
Elder said her ordeal began on Friday after she had finished her usual homemaking chores and looked for her ring. Her husband of 31 years had given her the ring on their 15th wedding anniversary, while she was mourning the death of her mother. “I could never replace this piece of jewelry,” Elder said. “It’s quite sentimental.”
She looked in all the usual places but the ring wasn’t to be found. “Sheer panic and terror set in,” Elder said.
She called her daughter, Sydney, 24, to leave work and help her look. They tore apart the house so badly that when her husband, Charles, got home, he thought they had been robbed.
She remembered that she usually took off the ring and wrapped it in a paper towel when washing her hands in the kitchen sink. Her daughter looked in their trash cans, but their garbage and recycling already had been picked up.
A friend advised Elder to call Vilardi, who couldn’t offer much hope. The regular garbage had already been sorted and shipped out. But when she mentioned that the ring could have been in a recycling bag, Vilardi said they might have a chance. The truck that was supposed to take the recycling material had broken down on Friday and the refuse was still on site.
So, on Saturday morning, Elder, her daughter, her husband and Vilardi met up on the district’s tipping floor, where garbage is dumped and processed before being shipped out.
Elder said the facility looked like “a huge airplane hangar. It is filthy. There were two distinct piles, at least 40 feet up in the air, literally garbage and bags.”
A heavy-machine operator began scooping up a bucket or two of garbage at a time and then spreading it on the floor for the Elders and Vilardi to pick through. Then he would scoop it back up and pile it in a different corner, Vilardi said.
Jodi Elder said, “There’s muck. . . . There’s maggots. There’s at least 2 million flies. The smell and the heat is oppressive. You’re ankle deep. It’s the most disgusting thing ever.”
Vilardi said, “We must have looked through 5,000 pounds of garbage: recyclables, cardboard, thousands of bags”
The Elders’ recycling bags were light blue with red ties.
She said she was ready to give up when her husband said “to give it one more time. On the last go round, I see a little tiny top of a bag, its blue. It’s got a red tie.”
She grabbed it. “I rip it open. I reach in. There, in a piece of paper towel, is my wedding band,” she said.
“We all started screaming, jumping up and down. I really lost it. Mr. Vilardi had to hold me up. It was like the hand of God reached down and put this bag right in front of me.”
Vilardi said, “It was such a great moment. She was in tears . . . I’m glad I was there.”
Elder said she didn’t know Vilardi before this. Now, “he will forever be my angel,” she said, adding, “It’s really the most remarkable thing ever.”