(The Washington Post 5/19/2012) Theon O’Connor, a senior at Georgetown University,sprang from the sedan that was idling in a neighborhood near campus and bounded toward students’ homes.
“Whoa! Donations here!” O’Connor, 23, yelled to the sedan’s driver, stopping at a couch resting on the sidewalk. “But there’s no way I can get this — that’s a big couch. Let me make a call.”
He dialed another student for help. O’Connor is one of nearly 30 Georgetown students who volunteered for the university’s fifth annual “Spring Into Service Move-Out Drive” this month. Over the course of eight days, the volunteers collected unwanted clothing, food and household items.
As many students clean out their group houses, apartments or dormitory rooms at the end of the semester, they often find they have items that are either unwanted or difficult to transport home. Georgetown is one of several area schools that have partnered with local charities so that end-of-the-year castoffs can find a new life in the homes of in-need families instead of landing in a dumpster.“This is something that, once planned properly and once done properly, can reap great rewards,” said O’Connor, a government major and track athlete from Jamaica who is on the student advisory board for the Off-Campus Student Life office.
The board spent nearly seven months fine-tuning the collection process and working with local charities, including KEYS for the Homeless, a D.C.-based nonprofit that networks with almost 60 other local charities to bring struggling families bedding, home furnishings, kitchenware and televisions, among other things.
The student volunteers also reached out to students who might want to donate and student organizations that could spread the word.
This year’s haul is expected to bring in anywhere from 50 to 100 pieces of furniture and several tons of clothing, said Audrey Stewart, coordinator of Georgetown’s sustainability program. That’s enough to fill the Office of Student Life from top to bottom.
Many volunteers at other schools are quick to note that these collections also promote sustainable initiatives.
Knowing that many of these donations might have wound up in a landfill and are instead being put to good use is something that might help students reevaluate their own consumption habits, said Cindy Felice, the University of Maryland associate director of residence life.
“I think realizing that we are a society with a lot of items we don’t always use, or don’t need,” is an important part of the program, she said.
The U-Md. “Trash to Treasure” program is in its 10th year. In past years, Goodwill has reported that more than 85 percent of the donations it receives from U-Md. are usable.
At George Washington University, the idea of sustainability is reflected in the name of the school’s program, the “Green Move-Out Drive,” which has been going for more than five years. Almost 250 volunteers with the program — including students, faculty and staff members — work with residence hall “eco-reps,” who promote environmental initiatives year-round.
The eco-rep program and the move-out drive often lead to students volunteering with charities outside of school and then inviting those charities to also get involved, said Cricket Manjarrez, a GWU staff member who helped out with the drive.
“If we make our community better, it will make our campus better,” she said.
At all of these schools, the volunteers were strongly passionate about the drives, dedicating themselves to weeks of planning, outreach and heavy lifting, even in the midst of finals and moving themselves out.
“It’s just such a crazy, fun, exciting time,” said Manjarrez. “You’re either graduating or you’ve finished the school year and you’re going off to your summer plans. But it’s really a time for students and maybe even their families to take a step back and say, ‘Okay, well we can make this move-out even more successful.’ ”
At Georgetown, O’Connor and the rest of the volunteers maneuvered the unwieldy couch past a line of joggers and painted brick row houses.
Then the team of volunteers regrouped in the Office of Student Life. Another batch of volunteers arrived, moving truck at the ready.
They gathered around a Georgetown map, planning routes and organizing teams. There was, after all, still plenty of daylight, and phones continued to ring with calls from students awaiting pickups.
Soon, a moving truck peeled out of the driveway, en route to new donations.
UPDATE: This post was updated on Wednesday to state that GWU has been greening its move-out for more than five years.