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Getting Thrifty: Campus Clothing Drive Provides Access to Essential Winter Gear

In an interview with Safety & Security Sergeant Rebel Roberts, she recalled the moment she realized the immediate need for student access to appropriate winter clothing. Out on patrol during a particularly chilly (well-below zero wind chill) day over the 6-week Winterim break, Sgt. Roberts was shocked to see a student walking down the street in a t-shirt without gloves or boots. She stopped and offered the student a ride and went out of her way to help this student get appropriate winter gear. Since then, Sgt. Roberts has made it her mission to help students access the clothing they need to face harsh Hanover winters.

In this and many other cases, students’ preparedness for winter is minimal, making the winter temperatures not just unpleasant, but even dangerous with potential for frostbite as students move from building to building. Sgt. Roberts knew this was a problem that needed solving and decided to find ways of providing these necessities. At times, she took it upon herself to purchase clothing for students. She also reached out to the community to contribute donations of unused winter clothing with the hopes of starting a clothing drive for students in need.

This fall, the Sustainability Office, in collaboration with Sgt. Roberts and other campus partners, organized our first ever winter clothing drive. Collectively, we were able to provide clothing for students that have difficulty accessing winter gear. This fall, we were able to serve eighty-five students through two clothing distribution days with donations collected in the weeks before. We want to thank Sgt. Roberts, to whom this would not have been possible without the decades of work that she has put in by taking on the task herself and now advising us on how to best provide access to winter clothes for Dartmouth students. We also want to thank our collaborating partners across campus who helped support and organize this clothing drive: FYSEP Director Jay Davis, the Office of Pluralism and Leadership, the Advancement Office, and International Student Advising.

We see access to winter clothing as an opportunity to not only help meet critical needs of our students, but also to improve the sustainability of our community through recycling and repurposing clothing that would otherwise go to waste. We hope to expand our efforts in the future by creating pathways to collect clothing that gets sent to the landfill during move-out time or by students traveling at the end of every term. We also hope to create easier pathways for donations of clothing, including more drop-off locations, climate controlled storage so we can accept donations all year, and possibly a team of sustainability interns to help orchestrate this clothing drive in the future.

The campus culture and attitude towards this type of event, which focuses on accessibility, sustainability, and overall thriftiness is changing rapidly. Nowadays, getting clothes second-hand has become an integral part of the Dartmouth culture. We applaud these “bastions of fashion” who are leading the charge on setting new norms in our community. While fashion is a great way to help shift cultural norms, it is equally important for us to acknowledge that “thriftiness” is not a new concept, and that people shop at thrift stores for many reasons other than individual fashion expression, financial constraints, sustainability, and convenience being among these. We hope to continue this effort to provide our students with the supplies they need to thrive here at Dartmouth, and to engage students in conversations around what sustainability looks like in their lives.

Utilizing design thinking principles and creativity, our staff and student interns created another avenue for recycling clothes through “pop-up thrift shops.” In these temporary on-campus marketplaces, students can sell their own clothing, creating access to affordable clothing and also incentivizing students to sign up to sell their unwanted clothes rather than to throw them away. Staff donate the leftover clothing from these events to local nonprofits like the Listen Center and the Bugbee Senior Center in time for their annual Free Shopping Day.

We see the winter clothing drive as a massive success, demonstrated by simple fact that we started with a room full of clothing and when we closed, all that was left were two jackets with broken zippers and a few mismatched gloves and socks. We see so much value in working to create access to affordable and necessary clothing through events like the winter clothing drive and pop-up thrift shops. They serve the purpose of helping us solve a sustainability challenge on campus as well as helping us meet real needs experienced by our students. But these events go even further than that, helping to create a culture that is more just, sustainable, and supportive of all members of our community.

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