Colleges To Students: Don't Trash Those Dorm Castoffs! Donate!

May 25, 2015
Originally published on May 26, 2015 1:49 pm

The goat barn at the Putnam County fairgrounds in Greencastle, Ind., will soon be full of, well, goats. But right now it's full of folding tables stacked with clothes, books and housewares — including an anatomically correct coffee mug in the shape of a woman.

At the tables are families, lots of them. Some waited in line for more than an hour to get first dibs on the larger items, like furniture and appliances. Carrie Ardito was first in that line and ran to the back to claim a clothes dryer.

"Yeah, I wasn't expecting one. But I saw it, and I was like, 'Awesome!' " Ardito says.

With so many eager new owners, it's hard to believe that most of this stuff was voluntarily left behind by students at DePauw University, about a mile up the road. For the last six years, the school of about 2,200 has developed a donation program, encouraging students as they move out of the dorms each year to give away — not throw away.

"It's not even necessarily that students are wasteful. It's just this transition time," says DePauw's Sustainability Director Anthony Baratta, who oversees the program.

"And so, you have a student who's in this transitory time, isn't going to take the futon on the plane, but then this actually makes a difference for whether someone is sleeping on a bed or a futon or the floor," Baratta says.

Case in point: Ed Sparks, who is helping his wife treasure-hunt.

"She was mainly after a bed — a couch-bed, whatever you wanna call it — for the little one," Sparks says.

The little one is their daughter, Madlynn, who ambles up, smiling and sporting a massive, yellow foam hand from some past DePauw sporting event.

"It means a lot," Sparks says. "That way she has something a little bit better than what she's got right now."

The median household income in the city of Greencastle is $41,000. School admissions officials say the median income among student families is more than twice that.

A week before the goat barn giveaway, while students were still packing and saying their goodbyes, some tossed unwanted items into recycling boxes that the school had left in the dorm hallways.

Allen Denhart, who was moving his daughter Emily out after her first year, said he'd moved his kids out of dorm rooms before but was doing it differently this year because of the constant reminders to donate.

"Yeah, normally I would have just taken it to the dumpster if I didn't know," he says. "Like that big piece of carpet there will probably save somebody $50 or $100 if they need a piece of carpet for next year."

Back at the goat barn, Carrie Ardito certainly saved some money finding that clothes dryer.

"I'm grateful for it, because it's stuff I can't afford on my own," Ardito says. "And then if I can't use it, I donate it to somebody else. I'm excited."

When this program started six years ago, only about a dozen families benefited. This year, it's more than 100.

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

College students leaving their dorms or campus houses for the summer face this decision - take all your stuff home or abandon extra clothes, crates and mismatched dishes. Much of it used end up in dumpsters. Now more campuses are trying to connect these castoffs with needy families. Stan Jastrzebski of member station WBAA has this story from Greencastle, Ind.

STAN JASTRZEBSKI, BYLINE: In a few weeks, the goat barn at the Putnam County fairgrounds will be full of, well, goats. But right now it's full of folding tables stacked with clothes, books and housewares, including an anatomically correct coffee mug in the shape of a woman. At the tables are families, lots of them. Some people waited in line for more than an hour to get first dibs on the larger items like furniture and appliances. Carrie Ardito was first in that line and ran to the back to claim a clothes dryer.

Looked like you kind of had your eye on it and you're like...

CARRIE ARDITO: Yeah, I wasn't expecting one, but I saw it and I'm like, oh, awesome.

JASTRZEBSKI: It's hard to believe with all of these eager new owners that most of this stuff was voluntarily left behind by students at DePauw University, about a mile up the road. For the last six years, the school of about 2,200 has developed a donation program, encouraging students as they move out of the dorms each year to give away instead of throw away.

ANTHONY BARATTA: It's not even necessarily that students are wasteful. It's just this transition time.

JASTRZEBSKI: Anthony Baratta is DePauw's sustainability director and oversees the program.

BARATTA: And so you have a student who's in this transitory time, isn't going to take the futon on the plane, but then this actually makes a difference for whether someone's sleeping on a bed or, you know, a futon or the floor.

JASTRZEBSKI: Case in point - Ed Sparks, who's helping his wife treasure hunt.

ED SPARKS: She was mainly after a bed - or a couch-bed, whatever you want to call it - for the little one.

JASTRZEBSKI: The little one is their daughter, Madlynn, who ambles up, smiling and sporting a massive, yellow foam hand from some past DePauw sporting event.

What does it mean to you guys to have this available to you?

SPARKS: Oh, it means a lot - that way she has something a little bit better than what she's got right now.

JASTRZEBSKI: The median household income in the city of Greencastle is about $41,000. School admissions officials say the median income among student families is more than twice that.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Stacey (ph) said that we would all say goodbye.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I said goodbye to her actually.

JASTRZEBSKI: A week before the goat barn giveaway, while students were still packing and saying their goodbyes, some tossed their unwanted items into recycling boxes the school had left in the dorm hallways. Allen Denhart, who was moving his daughter, Emily, out after her freshman year, said he'd moved his kids out of dorm rooms before but was doing it differently this year because of the constant reminders to donate.

ALLEN DENHART: Yeah, 'cause normally I would've just taken it to the dumpster if I didn't know. And, like, that big of piece of carpet there probably save somebody $50 or a hundred if they need a piece of carpet for next year, so...

JASTRZEBSKI: Back at the goat barn, Carrie Ardito certainly saved some money finding that clothes dryer.

ARDITO: I'm grateful for it 'cause it's stuff I can't afford on my own so - and then if I can't use it, I donate it to somebody else. I'm excited.

JASTRZEBSKI: When this program started six years ago, only about a dozen families benefited. This year, it's more than a hundred. For NPR News, I'm Stan Jastrzebski in Greencastle, Ind. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.