Students nab houseware, necessities from newly opened Free Store

Store items are sorted into four tiers, including everything from minifridges to hygiene products. Photo by Alessandro Latour

Anya Sczerzenie, Contributing Writer

In a small store in a corner of the old Ram Bikes building on Belvidere Street, VCU student Jeen Joy clutches a book.

“Right now I’m holding a book which I’m sure my friend will love,” she said. “[Last time] we got a few cups; we picked out a painting.”

The book has no price tag. Nothing in the store does. Everything, big or small, is totally free.

VCU’s Office of Sustainability opened the Free Store on Aug. 19, right before classes began on the Monroe Park campus. The store is located at Belvidere and Grace streets.

Employees say the store has been well received by students, with a line stretching out the door on opening day.

“We’ve had at least 600 visitors, and it’s just Wednesday,” said Erin Stanforth, director of sustainability.

“We came in the first day, and there was a huge crowd,” Joy said. “It took us an hour to get into the Free Store.”

The Free Store’s inventory is exclusively supplied by donations. Items that can be donated include books, art supplies, cooking supplies, non-perishable food and unopened hygiene products. However the most commonly donated item, according to Reporting and Outreach Coordinator and VCU alum Parker Long, is kitchenware.

“We’ve had a lot of books, and a lot of decorative items,” Long said. “I think there has been the most kitchen stuff, but that’s also such a big category of items.”

Students, faculty, staff and alumni can donate items to the Free Store. More than 1,000 items have been donated so far.

Unlike RamPantry, which requires users to demonstrate need, the Free Store is open to all VCU community members with a valid ID. This means that any student or staff member, regardless of need, can use the Free Store.

“We aren’t making anybody provide details on their financial status,” Long said. “But we’re not very worried about [abuse] because we have rules for how many items can be taken. By doing it that way, we’re making it so that people can’t abuse the system of the Free Store. We don’t want to turn anyone away.”

The store’s inventory is sorted into four tiers by value, with bigger items like minifridges and televisions on the highest Tier Four, and small items on the lowest Tier One. Customers can take a certain number of items from the lower tiers each week, but are only allowed one Tier Four item per semester.

Stanforth says they’ve already run out of several items in the back-to-school rush, but anticipate the flow of donations will become steadier once the store has been open for a longer time.

“We are out of mini-fridges, we are out of microwaves,” Stanforth said. “But once it becomes more of a fixture on campus, we anticipate there might be more of a steady flow of stuff.”

The goals of the Free Store are to help both students and the environment by reusing items that would otherwise be thrown away.

“We’re taking a lot of items that students would otherwise trash when they move out,” Long said. “We’re taking the items out of the refuse cycle and getting them to be reused by other people, and we’re also trying to alleviate financial burden for students, even if it’s just small things that they don’t have to buy. Sustainability is everyone having what they need.”

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