Office of Sustainability Diverts 16,500 Pounds of Clothing, Food and More to Local Nonprofits

A student leaves a box in the donation collection bin at River Hawk Village Image by Ed Brennen
Move-out donation bins were overflowing at 11 residence halls this spring, including these bins at River Hawk Village.

By Ed Brennen

Even on their way out the door for the summer, UMass Lowell students were practicing sustainability and helping the community.

The university’s annual Spring Move Out donation drive collected a record 16,500 pounds of clothing, household goods and nonperishable food items from students at 11 residence halls across campus in May.

That breaks the previous record of 14,144 pounds set in 2016 — and is nearly five times the amount collected when the university began the program in 2014 as a way to divert items destined for landfills to local charitable organizations.

Managed by the Office of Sustainability and the Office of Residence Life, Spring Move Out has collected a total 50,626 pounds of donations over the past five years. Winter move-out drives have generated another several thousand pounds of donations.

Video by Alfonso Velasquez
Take a behind-the-scenes look at the Spring Move Out donation drive, which diverted more than 8 tons of items from landfills to local nonprofits.

“If this is the smallest thing we can do, I think it’s making a very big impact,” says Move Out Coordinator Andre Ragel, a rising sophomore in the Manning School of Business who took on the coordinator role this year to help further the university’s sustainability goals.

Nearly all of this spring’s donations went to five local charities:

  • 4,200 pounds of clothing and shoes to Catie’s Closet, a Lowell-based nonprofit that provides clothes and footwear to kids in more than 50 schools in Massachusetts and New Hampshire;
  • 3,000 pounds of dorm supplies to GradBag, a Newton-based nonprofit that collects, cleans, packages and redistributes items like bedding, lamps, hampers and rugs to college students who might not have the means to buy them on their own;
  • 2,000 pounds of nonperishable food items to the UML Navigators Food Pantry;
  • 4,000 pounds of clothing and household items to The Wish Project in Lowell and Savers thrift store in Nashua, N.H.

Pamela Beckwith holds up a UML hockey jersey being donated to the Wish Project Image by Ed Brennen
Environmental & Sustainability Waste Management Coordinator Pamela Beckwith holds up a UML hockey jersey being donated to The Wish Project.

The remaining 3,300 pounds of foam mattress pads, rugs, carpets, furniture and books were recycled or repurposed.

“It’s nice that the students’ stuff that’s still usable can go to people that need it and doesn’t end up in the landfill,” Jill Maker, director of operations at The Wish Project, said as several bins of donations were delivered to the nonprofit. “In terms of both donations and students volunteering here, UMass Lowell has been wonderful to us.”

Close to 50 students, many of them from club sports, the Honors College and the athletics program, volunteered nearly 200 hours of their time to help sort the Spring Move Out items.

Transportation Services, under the direction of Parking and Transportation Manager Karina Cruz, also provided staff members and vehicles to collect the donations and drive them to a central sorting location at the Riverview parking lot on South Campus.

Student Christian Franco sorts donations to the Food Pantry Image by Ed Brennen
Rising junior computer science major Christian Franco sorts food donated to the Navigators Food Pantry at University Crossing.

“We couldn’t do it without the volunteers,” says Environmental & Sustainability Waste Management Coordinator Pamela Beckwith, who also thanked the university’s recycling vendor, Allied Computer Brokers (ACB), for hauling the donations from campus to the nonprofits free of charge.

In April, the university diverted another 12,032 pounds of items from landfills during its two-day Spring Into Recycling event. Run by the Office of Sustainability and IT Information Security, the semi-annual event provides members of the university community with free, secure recycling of computers, batteries, TVs and other household items, as well as shredding of confidential documents.

More than 600 items (including a kitchen oven) were hauled away for recycling by ACB, along with 623 batteries and 186 light bulbs.

Rowdy the River Hawk helps student Andre Ragel sort recycled computer items Image by Ed Brennen
Move Out Coordinator Andre Ragel gets some help from Rowdy in sorting recycled computer components.

As a student employee in the Office of Sustainability, Shawn Nagle was a constant presence during both spring events, sorting through countless bins of clothing, food and electronics. Nagle, a rising junior civil engineering major from Lynn, says the work has reminded him of the importance of not over-consuming.

“I try to keep things to a minimum anyway,” Nagle said as he helped load a pallet of items onto a truck destined for GrabBag in Newton. Once cleaned and repackaged, some of the items will come back to campus in the fall for nearly 100 students who need them.

While he appreciates students donating their belongings as they move out of the residence halls, Ragel says the goal of the program isn’t to increase the amount of stuff collected each year.

“We would actually love this number to decrease,” Ragel says. “To do that, students need to bring less stuff and reuse as much as possible.”