The VCU Free Store isn’t large, but it still contains plenty of useful items, from books to kitchen appliances. And — if you’re a VCU student — it’s all free.
There may not be such a thing as a free lunch, but right now there could be such a thing as a free microwave that makes cheap lunches cheaper for VCU students. This is thanks to the new VCU Free Store — a sort of mini-Goodwill nestled in the back of the VCU Rambikes building on 201 North Belvidere Street.
The store contains everything from old vinyl records, school supplies, kitchen appliances, and (hopefully) unopened hygiene products donated from VCU students and local businesses. These items are available to any registered VCU student, faculty, or staff member, according to the VCU Office of Sustainability Website. There are also limitations on how many items customers can take from the store.
“The items in the Free Store are organized by a tier, and those tiers are based on the value of the items,” said VCU Director of Sustainability Erin Stanforth.
The tiers are numbered one through four. Items valued below $25 belong in tiers one and two, and customers are allowed to take multiple of these items each week. On the other hand, people can only have one tier three item per week, and are limited to a strict single tier four (any item valued above $50) item per semester.
The VCU Free Store tracks the amount of items each person takes by having customers fill out a form with their name and student or employee number (V-Number) before taking an item from the store. They also use this tracking system to keep tabs on what items people take and donate. Special store credit can be given to people who donate particular useful items.
“Let’s say you brought me 15 textbooks and two mini-fridges, and you wanted a computer and a television,” said Stanforth. “It’s possible that we could give you credit towards higher-value items than you would normally have.”
Any person interested in donating an item just has to bring it to the Free Store and sign a donation waiver. The Free Store accepts donations from Monday to Friday between 8am and 5pm.
Stanforth came up with the idea for the Free Store in 2018. She and others noticed the amount of appliances students threw out in the West Grace Resident Halls while moving away.
“It took us about a year to really understand where all that stuff was collected, how we could mobilize… to move that stuff, and how much stuff we were really talking about,” said Stanforth.
After that, Stanforth and the Office of Sustainability — with help from VCU Residential Life and Housing and Goodwill — began collecting items from the West Grace resident Halls. For the first ten days of May 2019, students could donate items by dropping them in special bins, a system inspired by Goodwill’s own donation bins.
With those items, along with many more donated by Dominion Energy, Stanforth and the Office of Sustainability gathered more than enough items to open the VCU Free Store. The Free Store officially opened on August 19, and is now open twice a week, on Wednesdays from 10am to 5pm and Fridays from 10am to 1pm.
With the VCU Free Store, VCU’s Office Of Sustainability not only helps make VCU’s campus more sustainable by giving students’ unwanted leftovers somewhere to go besides the trash, it also helps newly-arriving students tackle the brave new world of student housing. Easing the college adjustment period while reducing and re-using products — what could be better?
Top Photo by Brian McNeill, via VCU University Public Affairs