By Ed Brennen
For most students going away to college, dorm essentials like bed sheets, blankets and towels are simply items on the packing checklist.
But for some students, that’s not the case.
Students coming from situations of housing insecurity – perhaps because they are aging out of the foster care system or because they are homeless – often show up to campus without basic necessities.
Thanks to a collaboration between the Office of Sustainability, Student Affairs and the nonprofit organization Grad Bag, students in need can now get a free “starter pack” of gently used linens, blankets, towels and clothes hangers to help them get settled in their residence hall.
“We’ve given out four already, and just the look on the students’ faces … they’re ecstatic,” says Assoc. Dean of Compliance & Violence Prevention Annie Ciaraldi, who works with students facing food and housing insecurity, a growing problem across the country. “They feel like, ‘OK, I’m a college student. And I have stuff. And it all matches.’ It’s huge.”
“It gives incoming students one less thing to worry about during their transition to college,” adds Sustainability Program Coordinator Tyler Arrigo, who worked with Ciaraldi on the initiative. “It helps them get started comfortably at the university.”
Many of the items are getting a second life on campus, as they were donated by students during last spring’s Move Out donation drive. Of the record 16,500 pounds of clothing, household goods and nonperishable food items collected in May by the Office of Sustainability, 3,000 pounds of dorm supplies were sent to Grad Bag’s facility at Temple Shalom in Newton, where the organization collects donations from schools across the area.
There, volunteers sort and inspect linens and towels, which are sterilized in a hospital-grade washing machine. They are then neatly folded, sealed in plastic packaging and bundled with hangers in suitcases and duffel bags (also donated and thoroughly cleaned). A Grad Bag tag shows the contents of each pack.
“Everything looks brand new,” Ciaraldi says. “It’s awesome.”
While Grad Bag hosts an annual “pop-up shop” in the Boston area for low-income students, it let UML bring 75 bags back to campus instead. In August, Environmental & Sustainability Waste Management Coordinator Pamela Beckwith delivered a truckload of bags to University Crossing. A trio of student employees from Student Affairs – senior Lily Getty and juniors Maggie Ritchie and Luzmia Ligonde – unloaded the bags and transferred them to the Navigators Food Pantry basement storage area, where they awaited fall move in.
Of the 75 bags, Ciaraldi says 20 were set aside for students with a demonstrated need. The rest of the bags will be made available at the International Student Resource Fair.
“Many of our international students arrive on campus with very little,” Ciaraldi says.
Ciaraldi says the idea behind the initiative came a few years ago, when the retailer Bed, Bath & Beyond donated items for two residence hall “showrooms.” When Undergraduate Admissions asked Ciaraldi if her office could use the items, she gladly accepted.
“We gave them to two students who moved in without anything,” Ciaraldi recalls. “Suddenly, they had the ability to look like any other college student. It made a huge difference.”
Ciaraldi says students in need of a dorm starter pack can email her at Ann_Ciaraldi@uml.edu.
The Navigators Food Pantry (at University Crossing 104) is also open to students during the academic year, Monday through Friday, from 1:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.