Trash 2 Treasure a Three-Dimensional Success

by Ryan Dougherty
Trash to Treasure
photos by Martin Froger-Silva '16

The first thing you notice is the heat. It's 85 degrees outside but feels closer to 170 in the Lamb-Miller Fieldhouse.

Then, the undeterred shoppers, some pushing carts, strolling the aisles, eyes wide and focused.

Next, the sheer volume of stuff. The pile of pillows and comforters looks like a cloud, the floor lamps a thicket of pines. Dozens of banquet tables are piled high with electronics, clothes, shoes, books, home goods like half-gargled Listerine bottles, and well, pretty much anything else you could imagine.

Contrasts abound, whether it's a Britney Spears CD mingling with Skrillex or a physics textbook splayed across The Secret. Need a Halloween costume? Go as Gumby this year. Getting an early jump on holiday shopping? You're covered there, too, between the Chanukah candles and Justin Bieber wrapping paper.

And that's just scratching the surface of Trash 2 Treasure, the yard sale-arama held last Friday through Sunday at Swarthmore. The annual, student-run event offers used items donated by students and other community members at the end of the academic year, to three ends: giving the merchandise a new home, keeping it out of the waste stream, and raising money for local charities.

This year's sale raised approximately $20,000 for the United Way to distribute to social service agencies in Delaware County and kept about 14 tons of material - picture 25 industrial-sized dumpsters - from being incinerated in Chester.

"We're re-using it so we don't have to breathe it," says Debra Kardon-Brown, the Lang Center's assistant director for student programs, who has been involved in the sale since it began in 2007. "It's banding together as a community to say this is what Swarthmore College stands for in terms of environmental sustainability and to demonstrate that to students."

Kelsey Manning '17, too, saw a chance to make a statement.

"We are intervening, albeit in a small way, to combat pollution and environmental risks in our community," says the New York City resident, one of four student coordinators this year. "Ideally, it will also send the message that we need to stop consuming and purchasing so many unnecessary things."

Student volunteers, including those who stayed on campus through Alumni Weekend, those staying for summer research projects, and Chester Community Fellows helping via the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, commanded the effort. They put in 40- to 70-hour workweeks in the run up to the sale, says Brown, "hefting, toting, lifting, sorting, and arraying."  


This year's sale raised approximately $20,000 for the United Way to distribute to social service agencies in Delaware County and kept about 14 tons of material from being incinerated in Chester.

Also key to the decidedly team effort were Patti Shields, director of Environmental Services, which helped collect items from dorm rooms just before prepping these spaces for Alumni Weekend; Public Safety, which directed traffic; alumni volunteers, who carried items to the fieldhouse during Alumni Weekend; and United Way corporate partners from 3M and Target, who hauled thousands of pounds of furniture and managed customer-service logistics.

The fruits of their labor were evident early Friday morning, with the fieldhouse floor and two of its locker rooms packed with donations, and electronics and furniture stacked "floor to ceiling" in an art storage space across Fieldhouse Lane, says Brown. Meanwhile, a line of bargain hunters began forming at 6 a.m., swelling to around 250 before doors opened at 8 a.m.

The most sought-after item, as usual, was the mini-fridge; one man bought 50 for a recovery house he runs. Rugs and curtains remained popular, Brown says, especially among parents of students soon headed off to college. But other savvy shoppers trained their eyes elsewhere.

"The thing people make a beeline for, and it may seem nuts, is laundry detergent," says Brown. "We're selling a $12 gallon of Cheer for 75 cents because it has two cups missing from it. People just go nuts for those."

Sales were strong and steady Friday and Saturday, and Sunday's customers filled 32-gallon trash bags for $5. Toward the end, Nathan Graf '16 marveled at the disappearance of goods and reflected on his two years of experience as a volunteer.

"It's just a great combination of keeping the pure mass of stuff out of the landfill or incinerator, making that stuff available to the community at low prices, and making money for the United Way," says the biology major from Garnet Valley, Pa. "Those are three powerful, awesome things that make it a great program."