What do seniors do with all the stuff they’ve accumulated over four years?

Caitrin Hall ’13 accumulated a lot of stuff during her four years at Vassar, and there was no way she could lug most of it back to her home in Marin County, CA after graduation.

SWAPR (Students with a Purpose Recycling) volunteers.

“As I contemplated cleaning out my closets, I cowered in fear knowing I could never bring all my things home,” Hall said. “Fortunately, anything that’s usable won’t go to waste.”

That’s because members of Vassar’s SWAPR (Students With a Purpose Recycling) team were making sure the belongings Hall and her fellow seniors were forced to leave behind found good homes. Hundreds of pounds of clothing, appliances, and other household items were collected, sorted, and donated to local nonprofit agencies. Re-usable items that weren’t given away will be sold to students in the fall, defraying the cost of the massive recycling effort.

“This is how recycling projects are supposed to work – instead of throwing things in dumpsters, we’re helping a lot of people,” says Allison Crook ’14, an intern for the College Committee on Sustainability who recruited 35 other student volunteers for the project.

Volunteers collecting stuff from the residence halls…
…and loading it in the truck.

Over a four-day period just before Commencement, the volunteers went from dorm to dorm, collecting televisions and refrigerators, bookcases and kitchen ware and other miscellaneous material – backpacks and blankets, lamps and lacrosse sticks, sheets and silverware, even an occasional stapler or thermos bottle or ball of yarn.

Alistair Hall, Vassar’s assistant for sustainability affairs, said certain items were set aside for specific recipients. “It’s great to be able to help so many agencies who help so many people,” Hall says.

Hudson River Housing, Inc., which runs two homeless shelters in Poughkeepsie, takes household items such as couches, bookcases, and other furniture. The Vassar Haiti Project collects most of the discarded summer clothes, while Dutchess Outreach, a nonprofit agency in Poughkeepsie, accepts most of the coats, boots, and other winter clothing.

Dutchess Outreach’s Tara Whalen says the agency has come to rely on Vassar students to keep many of its clients warm in the winter. “It helps fill our shelves with things our clients can really use,” Whalen says. “In addition to clothing, we’ve also collected a number of bicycles.”

SWAPR was launched 13 years ago when then-athletic trainer Len Angelli noticed many re-usable items had been tossed into dumpsters during Senior Week. He recruited a few students to collect some of the material, then contacted Dutchess Outreach and a few other local charities. The program has been growing ever since.

Crook said she had been told Vassar used to deploy 20 extra dumpsters outside dorms and in other locations on campus to handle the flood of discarded material at the end of every school year.  “This year, I think we needed only three or four dumpsters (for material that could not be recycled),” she says. “That’s a lot of stuff that’s no longer going into the waste stream.”

--Larry Hertz

Photo credits: Buck Lewis

Posted by Office of Communications Friday, May 31, 2013

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