By Ed Brennen
One end of the gymnasium-sized garage looked like the home furnishings aisle at a post-apocalyptic Target, with a hodgepodge of chairs, lamps, mirrors, fans, microwaves and dorm refrigerators. The other end was dotted with small mountains of clothing and foam mattress pads. In between were collections of non-perishable food, cleaning supplies and random head-scratchers like crutches, an electric keyboard and bicycle wheels.
All of it was donated by students — and collected by the Office of Sustainability
— during spring move-out. This year’s haul weighed in at a record 14,144 pounds, more than double the 6,045 pounds collected in 2015 and four times more than what was collected in 2014, the first year the university formalized its move-out donation process.
“In the past, this all would have ended up in dumpsters or an incinerator,” Sustainability Program Coordinator Tyler Arrigo said while sorting donations in the former James Street Power Plant, now a university-owned garage tucked between University Crossing and Father Morissette Boulevard.
Instead of ending up in landfills, the goods were donated once again this year to local charitable organizations, including the Wish Project, the House of Hope, the UMass Lowell Navigators Club
, St. Vincent de Paul, the Merrimack Valley Food Bank, the Lowell Humane Society and the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA). An 820-pound load of foam pads and rugs, meanwhile, were recycled at a plant in Framingham.
“This isn’t glamorous, but it’s really at the core of the university’s sustainability efforts,” said Ruairi O’Mahony
, associate director of sustainability. “We want to make sure we’re capturing what comes from residence halls and helping it go back into the community.”
A Coordinated Effort
A big reason for the surge in move-out donations, according to O’Mahony, is student awareness. And as the process becomes more refined and organized, he believes it will continue to grow.
To help coordinate the monthlong operation, the Office of Sustainability also hired a temporary coordinator, Emily True, a recent UMass Boston grad and Lowell resident who will begin pursuing a master’s degree in sustainability at Duke in the fall.
“She had heard about our sustainability program here at UMass Lowell and wanted to get some experience before graduate school,” O’Mahony said. “It was great for us and for her, as well.”
This is also the second year the Office of Sustainability has partnered with the Post-Landfill Action Network, or PLAN, a national nonprofit organization that advises campus groups on ways to manage move-out donations. Harvard, MIT and Northeastern are among PLAN’s 45 member schools.
“They know how to handle such a large amount of stuff, so they helped us figure out a sorting system,” said Arrigo, who relied on a half-dozen student employees, as well as two student volunteers — Zayna Basma and Katie Bilodeau — to help sort, bag and deliver the more than 7 tons of donations.
Basma, a rising senior political science major, and Bilodeau, who just completed her bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology, were originally looking to start their own donation project as part of their Honors course, “Seminar on Homelessness: Lowell and Mumbai,” taught by visiting lecturer Susan Tripathy
. When they learned about the existing efforts of the Office of Sustainability, they decided to become involved with the move-out project instead, donating a carload of goods on a sunny weekday afternoon to the House of Hope, a family shelter headquartered on Merrimack Street near University Crossing.
“I really enjoyed working behind the scenes and getting a different look at how the donation process works,” said Bilodeau, who began graduate school this summer in the College of Health Sciences
and came directly from a lab, in her scrubs, to deliver several bags and boxes of clothing and small household items.
Basma, who volunteers with children once a week at the House of Hope, said it was nice to know that the university’s donations were going to a place where they would be appreciated.
“Actually working with the kids and being here, and getting a real understanding of their life stories, has made me appreciate their situation even more,” Basma said. “It’s nice not only for us to be able to help out, but also for the UMass Lowell community to help out, because we’re part of this community.”
Jennifer Sharkey, assistant director for the House of Hope, thanked Basma and Bilodeau as they dropped off the donations, which will be used by the 28 families who stay at the residence each night.
“Everyone who comes in can have such a limited amount of items, and we’re always needing really basic daily necessities,” she said. “Their space here is literally the size of a dorm room, so these types of items are really appropriate. This is really fantastic.”