By Ed Brennen
Done with finals and ready for summer, students may not have given a second thought as they tossed clothing, bedding, nonperishable food and other personal items into donation bins while moving out of their residence halls this spring.
But for local nonprofit organizations like Catie’s Closet in Dracut, which depend on donations to help serve community members in need, those left-behind items are crucial.
“Students may not realize what’s happening with their stuff, but without community donations we can’t do what we do,” Denise Trombley, co-founder and director of operations for Catie’s Closet, said as UMass Lowell students Shawn Nagle and Michael Doherty delivered 2,658 pounds of clothing and shoes to the organization’s warehouse.
Overall, this spring’s Sustainable Move Out Donation Drive yielded 14,019 pounds of reusable items, from minifridges and microwaves to textbooks and throw pillows. Most of that was donated to five local non-profit agencies.
Run by the Office of Sustainability in partnership with the Office of Residence Life, the program has diverted 64,645 pounds (more than 32 tons) of items otherwise destined for landfills since launching in 2014.
“As sustainability continues to be an important focus across the campus, Move Out serves as an excellent opportunity to spread important information and habits to students,” says Nagle, a rising senior civil engineering major from Lynn.
As Move Out coordinator this year, Nagle managed 14 drop-off sites across campus, organized 31 student volunteers who spent more than 500 hours collecting and sorting the items, and worked with the local nonprofits to deliver the donations. Nagle also coordinated with a variety of departments across campus, including grounds and carpentry in Facilities Management, Transportation Services and Plastics Engineering.
“Leading an event like this is a great privilege,” Nagle says. “You get to see the university come together and donate actual tons of material to charity. You see firsthand people taking time to come out and help us sort, even though it’s finals week or their summer break. It’s dedication like this that makes UMass Lowell great.”
“Shawn did a tremendous job,” says Pamela Beckvagni, environmental and sustainability waste management coordinator. “He was very well-organized and an excellent communicator who really motivated everyone.”
In addition to the 2,658 pounds of clothing and shoes that went to Catie’s Closet, this spring’s donations included:
- 771 pounds of kitchen items to the Wish Project, a Lowell nonprofit that supports local families;
- 3,368 pounds of dorm supplies and bedding to Gradbag, a nonprofit in Newton that cleans and repackages the items for college students in need, including here at UML;
- 2,550 pounds of clothing and miscellaneous items to Savers, a nonprofit donation center in Nashua, N.H., and;
- 1,736 pounds of food and toiletries to the university’s Navigators Food Pantry.
Another 1,522 pounds of broken electronics and metal were recycled by Allied Computer Brokers, and 1,010 pounds of school supplies and books will be made available to UML students at FreeCycle stations in the fall. A small amount of remaining items that could not be donated or recycled were disposed of.
This is the fourth year in which Catie’s Closet has received donations from UML. Once sorted and cleaned, the clothing and shoes will be made available to thousands of students in need in “closets” at nearly 75 schools across Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
“For kids who are homeless and living below the poverty line, having access to free clothes in the closets makes all the difference in the world in how they think about themselves,” said Trombley, who added that donations from college students are especially important to high school teenagers.
“College students are wearing more current clothing, and it’s all about making kids feel good about themselves and fitting in,” she said. “It’s about making sure they’re not bullied because they’re wearing their parents’ clothes or coming to school in shoes held together by duct tape.”
As Nagle and Doherty, a rising junior computer science major, navigated pallet jacks loaded with donations through the warehouse, Trombley thanked them for their efforts.
“Seeing that college students care about other kids that don’t have as much as they do is a really great thing,” she said.