May is a unique time of the year for local charities. As school life ends at area colleges and universities, the donation season begins for thrift stores and philanthropic agencies. What was a throwaway for college students becomes a valuable secondhand store item.
The pattern is simple: A college student buys a lot of stuff at the beginning of the semester and moves into a dormitory. As the semester progresses, the student acquires more stuff to decorate or just for fun. New clothes may be purchased as the campus life of fast food and late-night pizza deliveries settles on the waistline. When the semester ends and the student vacates the dorm, items that are no longer needed, wanted or just can't fit back into the car are left behind.
"Occasionally, we'll run into something like a mini-refrigerator, floor lamp, things like that where maybe they were trying to sell it and weren't able to. Or, they pack up to go and they live 18 hours away, and there is no room in the car for a mini-fridge, and they are forced to leave it behind," said Matt Mullican of Oklahoma City University's housing department. "Usually, we try to hold onto that to see if they are still interested."
Mullican has firsthand experience at leaving items behind when heading back home during his own days as a student at OCU.
"I got home and woke up the next morning and realized I had not grabbed a single item of clothing," Mullican said. "I grabbed what was important to me: I grabbed my TV, my video game system and my computer, but totally forgot to grab any clothing. I was able to call up housing campus staff and they kindly let me in."
But for the items never claimed, cast-offs begin the charity season. OCU started a program a few years ago to collect items students no longer want.
"Typically, at the end of the spring semester, or at any time of the year, if students have clothes they no longer want, the style is no longer in style, they can donate their clothes as long as they are in good condition," Mullican said. "It's kind of a year-round thing, but most of our stuff comes at the end of the year."
The items collected at OCU are donated to Goodwill.
At the University of Central Oklahoma, the donated items are shipped off to the City Rescue Mission in Oklahoma City.
"These items consisted of clothes " shirts, pants, dresses and shoes," said Tiffany Webb, public relations manager at City Rescue Mission. "The warehouse staff said they were able to put all of these items to use immediately. These items in particular were in great shape and able to help tremendously."
At the University of Oklahoma, a program has been set up to not only collect donations, but determine where the best place to ship the items.
"We partner with a nonprofit OU student group to evaluate the needs of Norman nonprofits," said Lauren Royston, director of marketing and public relations for OU's Housing and Food Services. "Our residents can then leave donations in designated donation areas right in their residence hall.
"This year, we filled about one-and-a-half box trucks with area rugs, clothing, microwaves, shelving units and much more. This program helps our residents help others and decrease the amount of useful, practical items that may have ended up in a landfill as students transition from residence hall living to apartment living," she said.
NOT UNIQUE TO OKLAHOMA
The end of the college year donation tradition is not unique to Oklahoma. Universities across the country have implemented some form of dorm charity drive. One of the largest is at Penn State University, which holds an annual "Trash to Treasure" sale at the university's Beaver Stadium. The event has attracted thousands of customers and raised more than $200,000 for the United Way, according to an Associated Press story. The sale features a clothing line stretching 100 feet long and 3 feet wide.
But what about the items that are just forgotten about and found by housing staff when examining the dorms? Some of those items are interesting finds.
"Every once in a while someone will leave behind " and it is usually not intentional " some undergarments, sometimes pricey, kind of fancy ones," Mullican said. "Half the time, they are totally embarrassed when they call. They almost don't want you to get it, but it's something important to them because they got home and don't have any underwear. It's important that they call to get it, but they don't necessarily want you digging through their underwear drawers. We've had a couple of situations like that where we will arrange to ship that back."
The AP also reported some mysterious dorm finds at universities across the country, including a 6-foot boa constrictor, an inflatable Jesus and a disco ball. "Scott Cooper