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One Student’s Junk is Another Student’s Treasure

By Zachary Robinson | September 5, 2022

UAlbany YDSA’s Instagram post with their free market in front of Campus Center fountain giving away free items.

Photo Credit: UAlbany Young Democratic Socialists of America / @ualbanyydsa

No, really, everything is free!

When it's time to move out at the end of semester, some students realize they can’t take everything home. From desk chairs, lamps, mirrors, to extra clothes – not everything can fit inside their luggage. Instead of trashing usable items, some students took it upon themselves to hold their version of a “Dump and Run.”

On Aug. 26, UAlbany Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) hosted their first ever free market. The organization collected reusable items from students in May 2022 and gave them away for free in the beginning of the fall semester.

YDSA co-chairs, Mehr Sharma and Mairead McElroy collected clothes, sneakers, furniture, jewelry, costumes, school supplies and more from Dutch Quad at the end of spring semester. With the help of other YDSA members and UAlbany’s Residential Life, they were able to find valuable items such as air forces, box fans, ottomans, earrings, bluetooth speakers, and bed frames. In total, they were able to find over 300 items worth of merchandise. They intended to stay stationed from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. but, to their surprise, items were gone within 10 minutes.

“We were moving bins up to the tables, [and] before we could unload them to display on the tables, people were collecting them already,” said McElroy. “I didn't have to pick up a single thing, they just went for it once people realized this was free stuff. People are going out on bus rides to Target and Walmart right now to buy those things.”

Colleges across the country, like Cornell University practice sustainability by holding a “Dump and Run.” Cornell raises more than $60,000 a year for local charitable organizations from their Dump and Runs.

Tufts University reported that their students leave behind an average of 230 tons of waste at the end of the semester. The amount of trash spikes during the months of May and June as students begin to head back home.

In the past, UAlbany held their own Dump and Run called “Give and Go” which was held campus-wide led by Director of the Office of Environmental Sustainability, Dr. Mary Ellen Mallia. However, the program was scrapped in 2018 as funding for the program was cut. After losing funding, Mallia struggled to find money for storage and additional help.

“While it is a great program, the behind the scenes managerial needs and expenses became overwhelming for my office,” said Mallia. “The Assistant Director for the office left for another job opportunity and the position was eliminated. It takes a dedicated group of five or six people to be able to oversee the collection sites, pack up the items and deliver them to recipients. In the previous version of the dump and run, we were not able to hold an exchange of items for students in the fall but rather donated any unexchanged items to a non-profit group as we did not have the storage capacity or the volunteers to hold the free market.”

Sharama and McElroy sympathized with Maillia's struggles to continue the Dump and Run. “They [the university] like to talk about big games, but not fund projects that will support that talk,” said Sharama.

When McElroy and Sharma began planning the idea of a free market they fell into the same problem of finding space to hold the goods they collected. Luckily, with students leaving for summer break they saw an opportunity to use the campus as a storage unit.

“Honestly the biggest issue with it was trying to find a place on campus to store all the stuff,” said McElroy. “If I had a basement in my apartment, I would put it in there. I do not have any space. But most of everyone else we know either doesn't have space in their house or is going back home and doesn't live in Albany.”

With the help of UAlbany's Women’s Research Center and Campus Center Management, McElroy and Sharma were able to store goods over the summer.

“Why would we waste a bunch of people's gas and time to bring stuff downtown when this entire, giant campus is basically abandoned? All summer?” said Sharma.

“Being able to keep items from the landfill and provide a match of unwanted items with new owners, many of whom could use free items, is a wonderful way to implement environmental and social sustainability,” said Mallia. “I applaud YDSA for all the hard work and dedication they showed in collecting items last May, storing them over the summer and providing the free market upon our return.”

Sharama and McElroy held the free market as a trial run for what's to come. They hope to do it again throughout the semester as the demand for different things change.

“Initially, we were thinking it would just be a yearly thing,'' said McElroy. "But seeing how much interest and how many things people continually have to donate, I think we're talking about doing it throughout the semester as well. Perhaps around Thanksgiving break, when it gets colder, people are in need of different types of clothes.”

YDSA’s idea behind the free market was “mutual aid.” Mutual aid is one of YDSA's core beliefs as it uses the principles of action, solidarity and cooperation. People leave what they can and take what they need. Other beliefs include fighting climate change, anti-capitalism, and pro-people.

Sharma and McElroy's goal is to find passionate students to coalition and to find other people with similar goals that would help with longevity.

YDSA will be tabling at UAlbany’s upcoming Block Party, Monday, Sept. 5. For those interested in finding out more or would like to join YDSA, they can follow them on Instagram at @ualbanyydsa.


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