For more than 10 years, Denison University has quietly been turning lemons into lemonade and helping their Licking County neighbors in the process. The lemon? Something that occurs naturally when a couple thousand people move out of what has been their homes for the past year – things get left behind. The lemonade? Thousands of items are made available to area agencies that serve needy populations.
Each year, when 2,100 Denison students move out of their residence halls, inevitably some things just can’t make the trip home. “We have more and more students from across the country who fly into Columbus, and they simply can’t take everything with them on the plane,” says Susie Kalinoski, associate director for the John C. Alford Center for Service Learning. Kalinoski coordinates what is now known as “Operation Move Out” with Barb Burgess, manager of building services.
Burgess saw the items left behind and realized that the situation could be turned into a win-win – they could put sustainable practices into action and help others in need. She contacted Kalinoski to find agencies that could make use of the items, and together they created Operation Move Out.
Under Operation Move Out, donation areas are set up in each residence hall for students to contribute usable items, which are sorted out and set up on tables in a large holding area. Several local groups are offered the opportunity to “shop” at the college for items that they might use.
Tuesday, May 22, the doors to the Old Livingston Gym were opened to many local agencies for the one-day big event. The floor of the gym held tables covered with neatly- folded clothing and shoes, brightly colored cups, plates and utensils, small kitchen appliances, table lamps and fans. Couches, chairs, small TVs and refrigerators were the first items out the door. Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Job and Family Services, Licking County Coalition of Housing, LEADS-Pataskala, New Beginnings, 6th Street and Growing, St. Vincent de Paul and YES Clubhouse were among agencies gathering up the goods.
Toshia Hammond, with New Beginnings Shelter and Services, arrived at 9:30 a.m. with a colleague to collect household items. “We’re especially looking for smaller items like hangers, plates, pans and coffee-makers, things that families can use,” she said. Hammond, who is a member of the Denison class of 2006, volunteered at New Beginnings as a college student and continued working there after she graduated. “We also work with the Licking County Coalition of Housing,” she said. “These items will go to women and children who need to set up new households.”
Volunteers for St. Vincent De Paul Center arrived, looking for furniture, refrigerators, fans, lights and larger household items. The Center runs a thrift store and homeless shelter in Newark. They use the thrift store profits to provide assistance to their clients in the form of rents and payment for heating and electricity bills, as well as to help run the homeless shelter. St. Vincent’s also help families set up new households and offers them the opportunity to “shop” in their thrift store.
Even agencies that at first glance wouldn’t seem like they could find something useful found a good reason to be there. Charles Cooper from 6th Street and Growing, a community garden where neighbors grow their own produce, was there looking for whiteboards and cork boards for a message center and cooking utensils for their cooking lessons.
Any items not taken were delivered to the AmVet collection site in Heath.
Taylor Klassman, who graduated from Denison this year, has led the student team three out of her four years working with the program. “It’s great to see the donation tables filled with items students give to help others.” She added “There’s a lot of tangible good here; we’re keeping literally tons of things out of landfills and because the students know they’re helping a good cause, they find it easy to donate items that they might otherwise have sold.”