Sustainability and Housing team up to bring free store to campus

VCU Sustainability aims to make the campus more eco-friendly with initiatives like this garden at MCV. Photo courtesy of VCU Sustainability.

Emma North, Contributing Writer

Every summer when moving, students clear out items they don’t want anymore from their houses or apartments, sometimes leaving them in the street or nearby alleyways.

VCU Residential Life & Housing has been doing cleanups for the last three years, collecting items from neighborhoods close to campus. Lisa Mathews-Ailsworth, an off-campus student services advisor, said Res Life collected an average of more than three tons of furniture and home goods each month last summer.

But there are still large amounts of furniture left behind to rot.

“I think a lot of the larger items are things students don’t accommodate for moving,” said Mathews-Ailsworth.

Mathews-Ailsworth and Erin Stanforth, the director of VCU Sustainability, are teaming up to create a free store for all the items students would otherwise leave behind. They said they hope the service will help clean up some Richmond streets.

“We know that stuff is out there,” Stanforth said. “We are still figuring out how to get it and how the store would work for students, faculty and staff.”

The project is still in the planning stages; Stanforth and Mathews-Ailsworth are gathering input on how it should run. They held three focus groups to gauge the need for a free store and whether students would put it to use.

“Personally, in terms of furniture and stuff, I would certainly use it,” said student Aidan Kierans, who attended the group. “It’s hard to get furniture that fits your needs in an affordable way.”

Mathew-Ailsworth and Stanforth said they want the store to provide furniture, textbooks and cleaning supplies. There are other opportunities for free services on campus including RamBikes — which offers free bike rentals — and Ram Pantry, which provides food to food-insecure students. Eventually, they said, they hope to combine the store with those services.

“We’re still in the fact-finding stages, to be honest,” Stanforth said. “But the concept is to attempt to bring all of the free resources on campus into one space.”

The store does not have a designated space yet. The pair said they hoped to use the RamBikes building, but cannot because of space issues.

“There has to be storage, there has to be access, box truck access. It’s got to be safe,” Stanforth said. “There is so many pieces that we have to know are there.”

Mathew-Ailsworth and Stanforth said they fear that free on-campus student services are not used enough. They said that may be because of the services’ inconvenient locations and hours, which could present an accessibility issue.

The Ram Pantry is open Wednesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. while the RamBikes location, between Belvidere and Broad streets, is several blocks from central campus locations like the Commons.

“One of my hopes with this project is reducing some of the stigma by combining all of these cool resources into one place,” Stanforth said. “That doesn’t feel like a weird kind of off-the-beaten-path [program]. It feels really accessible.”

They hope to have some way for students to sell or donate their left-over furniture and home goods by the end of the semester.  

On-campus students currently have the option to use the Goodwill donation bins in the lobby of every residence hall. Mathews-Ailsworth said that last year Goodwill hauled 17,000 pounds of donations off campus for free.

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