Students Donate Food, Other Essentials in Residence Hall Move-Out

St. John's community members pose for a photo behind semi truck that says "We Help People"
July 2, 2024

A routine, end-of-school-year ritual became an opportunity for St. John’s University students to assist the needy and serve as responsible stewards of the environment.

In cleaning out their residence hall rooms after the spring semester, students collected more than 2.5 metric tons of food, clothing, and household goods that were distributed to representatives of the Dax Program to support homeless students; St. John’s Bread & Life food pantry in Brooklyn, NY; and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Long Island.

Items placed in collection bins throughout the Residence Village included cans of nonperishable food, lightly used clothing, bedding, household supplies, and books. Volunteers emptied the bins twice daily, transporting the merchandise to a makeshift processing center in Donovan Hall, where it was driven later to the final destinations.

The 2.5 metric tons of collected merchandise exceeded the expectations of Jason T. Bartlett, Ph.D., Director, Office of Residence Life, who organized the collection.

“The volume was so great that when the drivers showed up to transport it all away, we had 45 laundry carts of donations lined up, and that was only one of three rounds,” Dr. Bartlett said.

The program, called “St. John’s Saves: Student Move-Out Drive,” collected footwear, decorative goods, wall art, cleaning bags, laundry detergent, comforters and sheets, first aid supplies, and more. Nonperishable food was transported to St. John’s Bread & Life, household items were sent to Dax, and clothing went to the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

It was a collaborative effort that included contributions from Campus Ministry, the Department of Campus Facilities and Services, the Office of Campus Sustainability, and the Vincentian Institute for Social Action.    

Typically, end-of-year residential waste from colleges and universities is routed to landfills. The amount of waste tends to spike in May and June, when students are moving out of dorm rooms. As landfills take on more waste, they release methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. Methane helps to create ozone, which decreases air quality.

“This was an attempt by us to mitigate the influx of waste we can anticipate at this time of year,” said Peter Barker ’13C, Associate Director of Environmental and Energy Conservation, Office of Campus Sustainability. “These things would otherwise have gone to a landfill and, instead, we are getting them to people who need them.”

"Our St. John's family has taken steps to move away from a throwaway culture, reinforcing the virtues of sustainability and stewardship," added Rachel Burgos '21C, Residence Campus Minister, Vincentian Outreach, Wellness & Leadership. "Our Vincentian identity serves as a constant call to action, urging us to work together to embrace an ethic of care. I am proud of the way we have been able to foster a deeper sense of connection to the environment."

Environmental stewardship is at the heart of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato Si' and is a primary Vincentian value, according to Dr. Bartlett, who hopes to expand the program next year.

Plans call for an earlier start to the collection, perhaps as early as May 1. Dr. Bartlett and Mr. Barker also hope to establish permanent collection bins for the St. Vincent de Paul Society across the Queens, NY, campus, where members of the St. John’s community can donate items all year.

“In my experience, our students are conditioned to doing good,” Dr. Bartlett said. “This was an opportunity for the rubber to hit the tarmac. Helping others is deeply rooted in our mission.”