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Program turns 'trash' into treasure

University of South Carolina student Drew McElwee’s drive home is more than 10 hours. So, he decided it was easier to lug his dorm carpet to the curb than haul it across the country.

“We didn’t have space in storage, and we have an SUV, but it’s not big enough to hold my carpet,” McElwee said.

McElwee isn’t alone. Hundreds of other students living on the USC campus faced a similar dilemma.

Take It or Leave It, a program that was created in 2001 by University Housing and is part of the university’s green initiative, turns discarded items into treasures for local charities that serve people in need.

“We were looking around, and we saw a lot of the things that the students were just throwing away that could have been recycled or donated to a charity,” said Margaret Bounds, coordinator for University Environmental Sustainability.

This year, the staff set up 72 collection boxes in all the residence halls for students to dump items that they didn’t want to take home. The results were overwhelming: 2,856 pounds of food and 5,383 pounds of clothing were collected last year. Bounds expects a larger haul this year.

“We see a whole range of things, including brand new shoes,” Bounds said. “I’ve seen shoes in their box with the tags still on-- lots of clothing, really nice appliances, some really nice printers, refrigerators. We’ve basically seen the whole range of things from toiletries to a fax machine.”

University Housing workers spent the last two weeks of the school year loading up vans with the items but, instead of hauling it to the landfill, they headed to local charities like Harvest Hope Food Bank, where the delivery made a huge difference at a critical time of year.

“It’s fantastic,” said Chris Daly, chief operating officer of Harvest Hope. “It’s what food banking is all about. You eliminate usable food from going into the waste, and you make it available to folks who need it. People think a lot about charitable organizations during the holiday season, and we’re grateful. But as the summer months creep up, we see a decline in financial donations and food donations.”

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Take It or Leave It

  • What: Organized campus effort to turn discarded into charities that serve people in need
  • Who: University Housing created program in 2001

Related Links

  • University Environmental Sustainability
  • University Housing

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