Sarah Lawrence Salvage Drive: Bigger and Better at 10 Years Old

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The 10th anniversary of the Sarah Lawrence College Salvage Drive took place during the last week of May, marking the largest drive to date. It featured more than 2,600 square feet of merchandise—primarily collected from students vacating their dormitories—which was re-distributed to non-profit organizations, SLC programs and offices, and to SLC’s community members: students, staff, faculty, and contract service employees.

Taking place at the school’s Campbell Sports Center, the drive was expanded this year to include an additional 865-square-foot-room, but the extra space still did not fully accommodate the volume of merchandise, which also included donations from staff and faculty.

The Salvage Drive takes place annually at the end of the College’s spring term. It began in 2009 with a Pod set up in a parking lot and quickly grew in size to require relocation to the Sports Center two years later. About 40 percent of the collected merchandise is donated to non-profit organizations including Grad Bag, a green initiative that redistributes lightly-used dorm room items (which often end up in landfills) to incoming college freshmen from low-income households.

Other local beneficiary organizations include the SLC Refugee and Immigrant Families Summer Program, Bronx Collaborative High School, Mott Haven Charter Elementary School, Greyston Foundation, Furniture Sharehouse, and Dress for Success. In addition, feminine hygiene products are donated to teenagers at the Charles Gorton High School in Yonkers. The Sarah Lawrence community is invited to “shop” the free merchandise on “Community Days,” after the non-profit donations are made.

“The opportunity to share things that are no longer being used is not only an environmentally positive action, but also hugely beneficial to the community,” said Maureen Gallagher, assistant vice president for campus operations and facilities. “Being able to pick up a free desk lamp, mug, or new bedding is a boon to people with limited incomes and a great way to limit waste. Finding things to reuse, rather than purchasing new items, is what the Salvage Drive is all about. And many staff and students have great stories of treasures they have found over the years.”

A number of Sarah Lawrence offices and programs also benefit from the drive, including the Child Development Institute, which receives cutlery for the Teaching the Environment Program and items for the Community Adventure Play Experience; the Sports Center, which acquires yoga mats; and office and living spaces, which receive microwaves, coffee pots, and fans.

New this year were donations of food items, resulting in approximately 30 bags/boxes of food donated to the SLC Food Sharing Program. “This will have a huge impact on students living on campus this summer,” said Gallagher.

In the early years of the drive, students were asked to bring their donations to the Sports Center, but in 2011, designated drop off spots were established throughout campus, and a team of volunteers conducted pick-ups in College vans. This resulted in “an enormous increase” in the amount of donations, and the process continues today.

The Salvage Drive is the largest project run by the school’s Sustainability Committee, and the 2019 drive was organized and managed by Tanya Ferguson MSEd ‘19, who worked in Gallagher’s office.“Lots of people put in lots of hours to make it happen, but without Tanya, it wouldn't have been manageable,” said Gallagher, who points out that the drive speaks to the foundational aspects of the committee’s mission. “The three pillars of a sustainable campus are economy, ecology, and equity. The Salvage Drive addresses each of these in significant ways.”

The committee attributes the growth of the drive to the investment of the Sarah Lawrence community—the number of volunteers, donations, and recipients has grown exponentially over the years. The drive is made possible by the work of the volunteers, comprising SLC staff and some students and faculty, along with help from the Sports Center staff.

“It takes a village to hold the Salvage Drive, and the Sustainability Committee is grateful to every volunteer,” said Gallagher.