Student groups combine sustainability and philanthropy

SWAP-ing trash for charity

| Staff Reporter
(L-R) Zach Kelly, Ross Kelly and Mike Young gather donated items in the lobby of Wheeler House on the South 40. (Courtesy of The Office of Sustainability)

(L-R) Zach Kelly, Ross Kelly and Mike Young gather donated items in the lobby of Wheeler House on the South 40 as a part of SWAP, a student-run non profit business. (Courtesy of The Office of Sustainability)

Fifteen to 20 desk chairs, 10 to 15 televisions, 40 to 50 desk lamps, 15 to 20 microwaves, a few living room sets, a large number of plastic bins and hangers. This names only a few on the long list of items Sharing With A Purpose collected from Washington University dorms and apartments after move-out this past semester.

Better known as SWAP, the program collects and donates to charity any unwanted reusable items University students leave for trash. The newly established student-owned business has been a member of the Student Entrepreneurial Program since fall 2008 and received non-profit status from Missouri in February 2009.

Seniors Michael Young and Ross Kelley, two of SWAP’s six co-founders and owners, had no idea the group would meet so much initial success.

“We knew a lot of Wash. U. students were concerned about campus sustainability, but we did not expect the response to SWAP to be so positive in only its first year,” Kelley said.

SWAP, however, is certainly not the campus’s only student-run program with conservation and charity in mind. Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE) fraternity’s furniture drive, which accepts all non-electronic appliances to donate to the St. Louis-based food bank Operation Food Search, has operated since spring 2002.

Senior Adam Yasinow, president of TKE, said the fraternity’s annual drive has remained successful throughout the years. Yasinow could not provide this year’s final collection number as the drive was still ongoing as of June.

The furniture drive and SWAP make up two of the largest contributors to the Share Our Stuff (S.O.S.) program in the Office of Sustainability at the University. Launched in 2008 under the leadership of Matt Malten, assistant vice chancellor for campus sustainability, S.O.S. seeks to reduce the amount of waste generated each year on campus.

TKE joined S.O.S. after it “ saw a marriage of interests” in the relationship, Yasinow said. SWAP owners also recognized the common ground and saw potential for raising its own publicity with the partnership.

“I cannot stress enough what a tremendous asset our relationship with the S.O.S. campaign and the Office of Sustainability has been, and we only look for further build upon this relationship,” Young said.

SWAP’s main beneficiary is Lydia’s House, a local organization that provides transitional housing for domestic violence survivors. After holding an on-campus sale of its items in late August, SWAP will send the proceeds to Lydia’s House and donate all unsold items to Operation Food Search.

“Our items go back to the Wash. U. community while [other groups] donate their items to outside organizations,” Young said.

Despite the ongoing work of such programs in past years, some students say that the efforts are not well publicized.

2007 alumnus Nicholas Gregg, who currently works for the School of Medicine, said he had never heard of TKE’s furniture drive during his undergraduate years at the University.

“Senior year, when we were moving out of our off-campus house, we did not know of such student groups. So we just left the items [in] the back alleyway, which someone did come and pick it up,” Gregg said.

Sophomore Dan Bernard claims to have heard very little about SWAP this year.

“It sounds good, but the groups need to give out more information and publicize better,” he said.

Bernard and Gregg also said the two groups could end up competing, since both have similar functions.

“It sounds like both organizations target the same group of people and do similar things—why two organizations?” Bernard said, echoed by Gregg’s suggestion that the programs would fare better if they combined their efforts.

The organizers behind the furniture drive and SWAP, however, said they found the relationship with each other and with S.O.S. mutually beneficial.

“We have been able to bounce ideas off of each other to help make the program more successful, and we have been able to share resources,” Young said.

Yasinow believes the cooperation also lets the programs pursue an overall agenda to “actively promote campus sustainability.”

With ever increasing public attention to the need for a sustainable future, the organizers expressed optimism about the success and impact of their efforts.

“Next year, we look to strengthen and continue our relationship with the S.O.S. drive. We have a strong relationship with Operation Food Search and look to continue our philanthropic cause,” Yasinow said.

SWAP expects an even more successful drive next year, Young said.

“As this was our first year, there is plenty of room for improvement and efficiency on our end. We hope to achieve our current goals at a higher level—promote our campus’s sustainability while benefiting a local charity.”

SWAP will host its sale on the South 40 on Aug. 21-22 and in the Village on Aug. 23-24.