Stanford Clothing Drive saves students' castoffs from landfill
Started by one woman 10 years ago, the effort now includes dozens of volunteers
Every June, in a mad dash to flee the campus, Stanford University students leave behind dirty towels and designer jeans, lamps and socks.
The waste -- all destined for the landfill -- used to bother Lori Fuller, a Mountain View resident who worked as a residential affairs specialist in campus dorms for nearly a decade. So in 1997, she began collecting the castoffs -- in a baby pool called the "jean pool" -- and taking them to local charities, particularly InnVision.
Ten years later, Fuller's one-woman effort has become the Stanford Clothing Drive, a nearly year-round project with several dozen volunteers, a trickle of funding and one influential cheerleader -- Palo Alto Councilwoman LaDoris Cordell, a former judge and advisor to Stanford's president.
"We started small and dug our own grave," joked a sweaty Elaine Hill, a Menlo Park resident who has joined Fuller in coordinating the drive.
Last Monday, the volunteers rolled out about 60 50-gallon barrels, which were donated by Greif Inc., an industrial packaging company. Within a day, many of the barrels were overflowing.
Fuller, her son, and other volunteers hefted the discarded sweaters, mismatched shoes, and unopened graduation gifts into bags, which they piled into vans and drove to Ujamaa residential hall, where they tossed them onto large tables for sorting. Sweatshirts, socks, T-shirts and larger jeans are sent to the Opportunity Center, which provides housing and programs for the homeless and formerly homeless. Hill estimates they provide more than half of the center's entire year's supply of clothing. Other items, including the size 1 designer jeans, are donated to Goodwill, Hill said.
Volunteers, exhausted from a day of lifting packed bags, relaxed in the stifling heat of the lounge last week. They called the work "smelly," due to both the volunteers themselves and some less-than-choice items left behind.
They found 10 pounds of raw meat, lots and lots of liquor, a Coach handbag and even a wedding dress.
The volunteers try not to think of the students as spoiled, but after digging through mounds of perfectly good clothes and furniture, sometimes it's tough, they acknowledged.
Students have been eager participants during school-year events and several graduate students even volunteer with the drive, Fuller said. Fuller said she doesn't expect student participation. During finals week, they have plenty on their minds.
The volunteers see their drive as a grassroots sustainability effort at its simplest.
"This stuff is filling up the landfill if we don't snag it," Fuller said.
She doesn't even shy away from climbing into dumpsters, where treasures often hide. Recently, she spotted a brand-new Eddie Bauer backpack -- just what someone on the streets needs.
On Tuesday, the drive ended for this school year. Volunteers aren't sure exactly how much they collected -- the goods fill several hundred bags and several truck loads, however.
The work begins again in August, when high school students flood the campus temporarily, often furnishing their rooms for only a few weeks, leaving bedding and even microwaves behind, Hill said.
And, although the core volunteers are glad to toil for hours, the work is hard and more volunteers are always needed, Fuller said. All the work is done for free, save for a small stipend Fuller and several workers from the Opportunity Center received this year.
In addition, there's always a need for clean, gently worn "survival gear" to stock the clothes closet at the Opportunity Center, Hill said.
And money -- to rent the vans to transport the goods, perhaps to acquire a much-desired golf cart, or even to promote the effort -- would be great, Fuller said.
For more information about the Stanford Clothing Drive, call Lori Fuller at 650-575-1420.
Staff Writer Becky Trout can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.