Their gloved hands worked fast as they sent cupboard doors flying. The refrigerator and freezer doors had no time to close between bagged veggie and frozen meat hauls, and kitchen drawers lurched forward while the other employee clawed around for any silverware and spatulas left behind.
Pots and pans clanged as they landed amongst the several unopened cans of food that had already been tossed into the black, heavy-duty drawstring trash bag. The clothes, however, were silent as they were added to the growing pile of garbage that was being thrown out.
My jaw dropped as I stared at the fate of my roommates’ dishware, canned food and clothing they had left behind at the end of the Spring 2017 Semester at NorthPoint Apartments. I had opted to stay two days after check-outs that spring, and what I witnessed behind the scenes had put a knot in my stomach that hasn’t loosened since.
Soon enough, five bulging bags of “waste” were flung into the portable dumpster, and two White Glove employees wheeled the black bin back into the hallway as quickly as they had come; they still had four and a half floors to go.
That’s two buildings. Five floors. 154 apartments in total. I can’t help but think of the international student who perhaps just arrived in the U.S. two months ago, who has no pots and no pans; or the student whose family back home is currently functioning by the strength of a single mother, and there’s no money to be sent to Rexburg for a new blender; or even the working father, who’s taking 19 credits to graduate sooner and doesn’t know what his family of four will eat this Saturday night.
While NorthPoint and other apartment complexes in Rexburg do make an effort to encourage the donation of second-hand items with designated boxes outside the office at the end of every semester, they can do better. Rexburg housing can do better. We can do better.
We believe there needs to be a more effective system on part of both the apartment complexes and us, as residents and as fellow peers of the students who are in need of the items that we deem “unusable”, “unwanted” and “inconvenient”.
Some complexes, such as Tuscany, have reliable contact with the Family Crisis Center in Rexburg, where all of the salvageable household items, clothes and food are donated to the center at the end of every semester. Others, such as NorthPoint, The Gates and Mountain Lofts, have designated donation boxes somewhere near the office for students to voluntarily drop off their used items to be donated to either D.I. or the Family Crisis Center, while some complexes require a 30-day waiting period before things left in the actual apartments are donated. However, plenty of apartment complexes, such as Rockland, have neither contact with a source to donate items to nor a designated donation box anywhere in the apartment complex.
While the donation box does provide a better option than the trash-n-dash I experienced this spring, the items left at most apartments, are still being thrown away, not only by apartment cleanup crews, but by students as well. It’s up to both the apartments and students to lessen the load of dumpsters piled high with usable waste.
Family Crisis Center Victim Needs Coordinator Kristy Bradshaw said the overflowing dumpsters pushed the city to search for alternative options to the waste that became a pressing problem every December, April and July.
“I don’t know why apartment complexes would throw things away,” Bradshaw said. “Maybe they think it’s more work for them? The city sends out an email to all of the apartment complexes, and they’ll have someone go pick up the donations. That was initially why the city took it over; because their dumpsters were overflowing and so much garbage was being picked up that the amount of stuff that people were throwing away was crazy, and they just felt like it was such an excess amount of stuff being wasted.”
Emily Garcia, manager of Rockland Apartments, said they don’t have a donation box or go through the things left in apartments because their cleaning crew already has enough work to look forward to at the end of the semester. While Garcia said they encourage students to take their used items to an apartment complex that does have a designated donation box, Bradshaw said the Family Crisis Center still does not receive a majority of their donations from Rexburg housing.
Some complexes can also reach out to the Deseret Industries Thrift Store in Rexburg, which will deliver a trailer to the parking lot; however, D.I. does not take food donations, and there are still students and residents of Rexburg and campus-approved housing who need it.
According to Bradshaw, 25 to 30 percent of the people who request food boxes are college students, both families and individuals.
“It seems like this last semester, a lot more people are coming in as a family of one; not married, no children, just going to college,” Bradshaw said.
The Family Crisis Center basement features a thrift shop, where anyone from the community can shop for much less, and a food bank, where volunteers put together boxes of fresh and canned food, toiletries and home goods for the families and individuals who can line up every Wednesday around noon.
The center usually gives out about 130 to 150 boxes of food per week, with a recent record of 182 boxes. That’s 182 families who could use the food, clothing, appliances and toiletries that suffer mass casualties at the hands of students and apartment management three times a year.
Marie Harris, Family Crisis Center victims special needs coordinator, said the donations help both students who come for food boxes on Wednesdays, as well as the survivors of domestic abuse who receive their weekly food boxes every Friday.
“So whenever we receive donations, it helps us accomplish our goal to reach the needs of the victims,” Harris said. “Especially the donations from college students because residents of Rexburg aren’t going to donate their blender; they use their blender every day. But donations from college students are so great because we get pots and pans. When a victim chooses to leave, they don’t have anything, so they’re able to get those items, which generally we wouldn’t have if it weren’t for the college because people in the community don’t get rid of those types of things unless they’re broken.”
Although students have to juggle finals, clean checks and moving day at the end of each semester, if every student could set aside a pile for donation rather than throw it away or let the apartments deal with it, that could clothe a student in need. If each apartment took the time to quickly bag what’s salvageable and trash what’s not, that could provide a victim of domestic abuse with their next meal. If each student and apartment complex held a little more accountability to designate a time for D.I. or The Family Crisis Center to come and pick up the donations, it would add almost no extra time, work or effort on their part, and in turn, we could turn our trash to treasure.