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As the academic year winds down, colleges help students shed stuff responsibly

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 16, 2012 - Stuff.

It multiplies in dorm rooms over the course of just one academic year.

Now that year is ending and what are students -- and parents -- trying to fit everything into one car to do?

At Washington University, one man’s trash becomes another man’s salvaged goods, with the university’s Share our Stuff (S.O.S.) program. To compensate for the plethora of too-big-to-transport "stuff" that gets either thrown out or left behind each spring, Share Our Stuff provides a practical and charitable way to recycle dorm's surplus matter.

The members of Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity came up with the idea several years ago, and have since received support from the University through the Office of Sustainability and Sharing With a Purpose, an on-campus student-run nonprofit.

The basic idea, says the university’s website, is “to ensure that usable goods are redistributed to those in our community most in need, rather than needlessly ending up in landfills.”

From April 30 to May 19, students have their choice of more than 30 stuff-dumping locations, from which S.O.S. will collect anything from Easy Mac to desk lamps to textbooks to toothpaste. The items are then distributed among a selection of St. Louis charities.

The Share Our Stuff drive benefits the 11,000 families supported through education programs and employment services by Goodwill; contribute to the 2 million pounds of food donated to pantries, kitchens and shelters each month by Operation Food Search; assist the WUSTL’s Campus Y program in promoting local leadership and character development; and help some of the 4.5 million families with sick children supported by the Ronald McDonald house.

Washington University also offers the Sharing With a Purpose (SWAP) and University Trucking (UTrucking) programs, which seem to be more popular on campus than the new S.O.S. program. Both programs are student-owned and operated, but SWAP takes on an additional non-profit responsibility.

SWAP is the ultimate student-recycling, charity-supporting machine, with a garage sale feel. At the end of each school year, students put unwanted items in boxes located in their residential colleges. SWAP collects these items, stores them over the summer, and puts on a massive sale of the goods for students when they arrive in the fall, with proceeds benefiting local charities.

UTrucking offers students storage, transportation from dorm-to-dorm, and shipping services across the country for ease when moving or traveling from school. Though it is a relatively popular choice among WashU students, its prices are significant.

Nearby, Fontbonne University students have similar options for putting their old items to good use. Fontbonne has also partnered with Operation Food Search and Goodwill. Bins for nonperishables and boxes for clothing are open to students at any time during the moving out process, giving them a chance to recycle their unwanted stuff to a good cause.

Maryville University recently implemented a similar relationship with Goodwill. Starting this year, a Goodwill trailer was parked on the Town and Country campus for three days in early May, available for students to drop off their clothes, furniture, bedding, etc. As Michelle Lawrence wrote in the student newspaper, the Maryville Pawprint, “The goal of bringing the Goodwill truck to campus is to encourage students to donate, instead of throw away, items that they no longer need once the semester finishes.”

Although Maryville's relationship with Goodwill is new this year, the process of donating old items is by no means a new one. Previously, Maryville has sponsored clothing drives and collected items from students to give away. This year the Center for Sustainability is looking to make an even bigger impact with the help of Goodwill.

At Saint Louis University, Facilities Service recently implemented several new recycling and charitable initiatives. During the moving seasons, the Distribution Service program takes students’ still usable furniture that either does not fit in the car or is unwanted back home and distributes it to local charities or stores it for future use at the university.

But the recycling theme involves more than just furniture. Geniene Turner of the Department of Housing and Residence Life at SLU says, “During move-out days, three donation stations will be set up on campus to drop off unwanted furniture, small appliances, gently used clothing and unopened, nonperishable food items. With your donation, you are not only diverting waste from our landfills, you are also helping neighbors in your community.”

The spirit of giving is also alive in St. Charles at Lindenwood University. Says Michelle Geissman of the Lindenwood Housing Department, “I am amazed at what students leave behind!” Though the discarded objects are removed for a fee, she added that, “Some of the RDs place 'Give Away' boxes in their halls and collect unwanted items and unopened supplies to pass along to other students who need them.”