Colleges turn student castoffs into charity cash
Sunday, June 1, 2003
Few students go through college without scavenging something, say a sofa from a sidewalk or a TV from a trash bin. And come graduation day, most young people on campus flee head-on into "real life," leaving their trash behind.
Their schools, for years stuck with mountains of dorm room detritus from loads of fast-food mac and cheese to computers and stereos, have begun turning the trash into treasure, raising thousands of dollars for charities and donating tons of food to those who help the needy.
"People just dump and run. They are so tired of being in school and just want to get out of there," said Gary Schwarzmueller, executive director of the Association of College and University Housing Officers International in Columbus, Ohio. "It is unbelievably hard to keep up."
What's collected -- furniture, stereo speakers, beer can collections, never-worn clothing -- is sold at massive sales in hockey stadiums, basketball courts or large lawns.
Massachusettes-based Dump & Run helped organize sales at 15 colleges this year in Canada and in Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island.
The University of Richmond in Virginia and Bates College in Maine are also gearing up for sales this summer.
Arguably the largest collegiate yard sale is at Penn State University, where 14,000 students living in 48 dorms leave behind as much as 180 tons of trash. On May 24, the school raised about $37,000 and donated $18,000 worth of food products to food banks.
'Just a waste'
"You would not believe the volume of ramen noodles," a staple of collegiate diets, said Fraser Grigor, associate director of special projects at the university. "We collected an awful lot of ramen noodles and macaroni and cheese. ...
"There are people who could be using this stuff and we were paying to have it hauled to a landfill. From a social and ecological view it was just a waste," Grigor said.
At Bowdoin College in Maine, Keisha Payson, the school's recycling czar, and about five dozen people are busy filling the school's hockey arena with items from donation boxes for a sale June 7.
"Usually the Dumpsters would be filled up with stuff. I used to peek over the edge and say, 'I can't believe someone would throw that away,'" Payson said.
During Bowdoin's first collection last year, the school sold 35 tons of landfill-bound belongings, netting about $11,700.
Among the take from the 1,600 students on campus this year are a Santa suit and an inflatable wading pool. The school also gives away hundreds of bottles of half-used laundry detergent.
While they would seem to be as simple as a garage sale, small details can snarl university sales, warned Dump & Run founder Lisa Heller, who created the organization while an undergraduate at the University of Richmond.
Colleges have to time their collections for when most students move out and provide adequate places for students to leave usable goods, she said.
And then there's scavenging from the scavengers.
In the early years of Dump & Run, Heller was hampered by desperate students who emptied her donation boxes so they had a place for their own belongings.
Students probably stole half of her boxes, Heller said, before she started mangling them, cutting away a flap and half the bottom.