Suffolk Students Find a Green Way to Help People in Need

On Move Out Day, May 2, Suffolk University undergrads cleaned out their dorm rooms and headed home for the summer break. Left behind were items they no longer needed, like clothing, bedding, microwaves, shelving units, plastic bins and non-perishable foods.

All of that gear didn’t end up as trash littering Boston streets or waste buried in nearby landfills. Instead, it was recycled to those in need, thanks to the student-run Give and Go initiative.

The force behind the campus-wide Give and Go program for the last four years has been graduating senior Careese Peters, who in turn credits her team of students and staff who help collect, sort and distribute students’ items for reuse. Her interest was piqued during her freshman year when she signed up for Tim Albers’ Environmental Studies 101.

“When I came to Suffolk, I knew I wanted to study both social and environmental issues,” she said. “His class tied my two loves together by showing just how they are connected.”

“If you look at the environment and social injustice, you can’t tear the two apart,” explained Albers, who is associate director of service learning for Suffolk’s Center for Community Engagement. “The population most affected by climate change, which leads to rising food prices and displacement, is the same population most impacted by social injustice.”

He encouraged Peters to get involved with the Center for Community Engagement (formerly SOULS), which engages students in service and social action by supporting projects that serve community-identified needs. She said the leadership skills she learned there helped her run the Give and Go initiative, which had been founded several years earlier by the Campus Sustainability Office with recycling as its primary goal.

During Peters’ four-year leadership, the program grew. She built a team of students and staff, formed partnerships with the Department of Residence Life & Housing and the Facilities Management Department, and added an extra collection week prior to students’ departure for spring vacation.

“Our goal is to redirect what are good-quality items away from the landfills and give them instead to more vulnerable facets of society, such as people in transition from prison, homelessness, rehab or fires,” said Peters.

On the week prior to each move-out day, Peters and her team place large collection bins in Suffolk’s resident halls at 10 Somerset, 150 Tremont and 10 West streets. Student RAs and dorm eco-reps make sure they remain neat, orderly and are emptied when needed throughout the week.

Departing students are given first rights to take items away from the bins, after which sorting and quality control kicks in. “We do not give out items that are ripped, stained or smell, nor do we give inappropriate items,” she said. “We want them to be ready for the shelters.”

In the past the team arranged to donate the goods to various human service organizations. This year senior Elise Kapitancek streamlined the process by having all the donations picked up by the AFSC’s Material Assistance Program (MAP) of Cambridge, which distributes such items to homeless individuals, immigrants, domestic violence survivors, victims of foreclosure, veterans and other impoverished individuals.

Last week it took 12 trips with a pickup truck to move the Give and Go donations of clothing and housewares to MAP, according to Program Coordinator Cassie Hurd.

“The students, especially Careese and Elise, were amazingly helpful during this whole donation process…,” she said. “Their generosity is so greatly appreciated by myself, my volunteers and in turn our recipients who will now have a better selection of clothing both for everyday and job interviews or work, and housewares for new apartments.”

Albers, her first environmental studies teacher, described Peters as phenomenal, citing the huge impact she has made on campus by raising awareness of sustainability issues and leading the Give and Go initiative.

Now, with the job done, she is looking forward to her graduation Sunday, when she will receive her bachelor of science degree with a major in sociology and a minor in environmental studies.

But she’s not leaving campus any time soon. This summer she’ll act as Suffolk’s Sustainability Coordinator, where she’ll help maintain existing and organize future projects for the university.

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