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Maryanne Braine '14 peruses CDs at the Free Store.

Free Store fosters resource sharing

January 28, 2014

Recycling, freecycling, thrift store, free store.

Earlham College’s Free Store officially opened on Friday, January 17, behind the Post Office in the Runyan Center basement.

“I love the idea that this will allow the Earlham community to provide for the Earlham community,” says Faye Christoforo ’14.  As part of Earlham’s Student Sustainability Corps, Christoforo works five hours per week at the Free Store as a Waste Reduction Specialist.

Previously, Christoforo, a senior, was involved in a waste reduction project at the end of each school year, where students were directed to drop-off sites for unwanted items, which were then donated to Genesis, Goodwill, and other community outlets.

“Ideally, at the end of the semester, people will donate things to the Free Store that students need, and when students return the following semester they won’t have to go to Wal-Mart,” she explains.

A large donation bin is located just outside the store entrance, and it is nearly always half-full. Articles of clothing, especially T-shirts, are the most commonly donated items, while appliances are the fastest moving items.

“We’ve had small toaster ovens, heating pads,” she says. “We even had a sewing machine. It was gone in about an hour and there was a friendly tussle over that. A lot of stuff cycles out really quickly, and a lot of the stuff gets repurposed.”

Christoforo has found interesting objects for art projects.

“I love the eclectic quality of things that come in,” she says.

Audio Visual Specialist Mark Brim makes frequent use of the Free Store by both shopping and donating.

“There are good quality items going in and out of the Free Store,” says Brim, who has decorated his home with Free Store artwork, pottery and books. “You never know what you might find there.”

Ten volunteers have been trained as Free Store staff. Volunteers sort, wash, organize and display items. While volunteers do not receive financial payment, they have first dibs on donated items.

“We are constantly getting feedback, making changes and revising the (Free Store) Manual,” she says.

Christoforo is currently working on her SOAN thesis about a phenomenology of post consumer material.

“It’s very interesting how the work I am doing here falls within that topic,” she explains. “Not only do I get to be here when people drop off what they don’t want, but I get to see the people who end up with it. The people who donate, don’t want it in their homes but they clearly want it to be in someone’s home.”

Shoppers or “freeloaders” come to the Free Store for used items, although a few items are new.

Christoforo lists multiple reasons for the increasing popularity of thrift stores and free stores.

“Social acceptability of used clothing is increasing,” she explains. “A small part may have to do with the economy, and another factor is that we have a lot. Sustainability and reuse plays a peripheral role or is at least a great side effect.”

Christoforo says she has a dream that the Free Store will increase in size with multiple donation boxes and will be housed in a larger, more ideal space with windows.

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