Already weighted down with two shopping bags full of gatherings from the gutter, Kathryn Lewis stoops to pick up still another item for her collection -- a dust-covered Tropicana fruit juice bottle.

A few steps farther along 16th Street NW, she spots two flat rocks and a couple of empty beer bottles. She scoops them up deftly, tidies them up and adds them to the day's booty.

She says it's hard collecting old bottles and other debris, but she does it because she believes her efforts will make a lot of people happy. "They call me the junk lady," she says.

Lewis, 50, a Vista worker with a local Christian group, was collecting materials she would use that day in a crafts program for the elderly at three Northeast Washington group homes.

With a little paint, glue and patience, Lewis helps people turn the trash into treasures. With a coat of paint, soda bottles become vases sprouting pastel paper flowers; a brick covered with fabric turns into a decorative door stop, and pieces of wood are transformed into a book shelf.

Under the direction of Christian Communities Committed to Change, a group of 10 local Catholic churches dedicated to helping the neighborhood poor, Lewis along with two area teenagers, spent four days a week this summer teaching the elderly how to use their hands creatively and sometimes even how to laugh.

Because of her thrifty ways -- collecting street trash, bricks and wood from renovation sites, begging for fabric and paper -- the total cost of the project, which ended this week, was only $30.

"I miss them, they were interesting," said Harold Johnson, 64, from his wheelchair. "They made you feel as if you wanted to do something."

Johnson is one of nine residents of one group home for the elderly on 26th Street NE. Every Wednesday and Friday throughout the summer, Lewis and her two young assistants visited them for four hours. "We got them moving again," Lewis said. "I miss them, too," said Thomasine Bingham, 73. "They gave you something to do besides watch TV. I made a jewelry box, an apron and two brick doorstops covered with material . . . beautiful gifts for my daughter and son."

"Sometimes they didn't want to be bothered," Lewis said. "But I'd come in and sing and make faces and jump around and get them in the mood. Then I'd get a lot of work out of them."

Often they'd take the residents for walks. "They didn't want to go but I found it was a way to get them moving," Lewis said. "I would just tell them, come on we're going to take a walk. I didn't come here to play!"

After a couple of weeks, the residents of the three group homes became accustomed to the weekly visits and began looking forward to them, Lewis said.

"They were always telling you what they couldn't do," said Earl Cohen, 15, who worked with Lewis for the summer. "Then they go on to do it like they've been doing it for years," said Lewis' other companion, Jan Jenkins, also 15.

Cohen and Jenkins, who got their jobs through the CETA summer youth employment program, said they had mixed feelings when they discovered they'd be working with "seniors" for the summer.

"We thought they would be cranky," said Cohen, an honor student at St. Anthony's high school. "Most all the older people I know are like that," he said. "I knew it was going to take a lot of patience that I didn't have.

But both teen-agers learned that the seniors were understanding and still knew "what was happening outside," said Jenkins, a student at DuPont Park Seventh-day Adventist School. "They weren't in cages, they even gave us advice about our futures," she said.

"All of them fell in love with those two youngsters," Lewis said.

"It's sad to be leaving" she said. "Some really needed that therapy. I remember one may saying to me, 'Miss Kathryn, my hands are getting kind of stiff, can you give me some work to do?" I gave him a what-not shelf to paint."

The residents were proud of their work, Lewis said, but no prouder than Lewis, who believes that such work among the elderly must continue.

"One day we'll all get to that age," she said.