Campus Donation Tables Aim to Provide Students With Free Resources

Free tables on campus offer students the option to donate unused resources to other students on campus.

There might be no such thing as a free lunch, but there are free clothes, books and other items available at some tables across Lake Shore Campus. Though maintained by different departments, the free tables share the same mission: providing resources to everyone on campus — all free of cost.

Senior manager of sustainable agriculture Kevin Erickson said the free table in the Institute of Environmental Sustainability started in 2019 when he realized there was a large stock of classroom supplies, including fossils. 

Instead of letting them sit around, Erickson said the School of Environmental Sustainability hosted giveaways and, from there, the tables became permanent fixtures.

The tables began when Loyola’s biodiesel program began collecting donations of used cooking oil in 2008, according to Zach Waickman, senior program manager for the SES. The lab repurposes the oil as fuel for intercampus shuttles and BioSoap, The Phoenix previously reported. The donations are collected in the corner of the IES atrium alongside the tables.

“The reality is, most people have too much stuff — not too little,” Erickson said. “We don’t need to purchase supplies using brand-new materials that may get used once or twice and then thrown away.”

Erickson said he reached out to other buildings about starting their own free tables but received no response. He said one concern is the aesthetic of a free table so to prevent messy piles and unkempt clothes, environmental club Growers’ Guild helps organize and watch over it.

Sully Kuhfahl, president of Growers’ Guild, confirmed the club’s involvement with the table in an email to The Phoenix.

“I think there’s some folks who may be pushing against the idea of a free table,” Erickson said. “It’s not across the board that everyone wants to do this thing, which I think is unfortunate.”

Third-year Megan Wenner said she often stops by the tables to look for one of her favorite items of clothing — flannels.

Wenner, a campus sustainability intern and treasurer for the Restoration Club, said using the free table helps fight the unsustainable practices promoted by fast fashion.

“It’s like thrifting, basically, but it’s free,” Wenner said. “It’s a good lifestyle choice if you want to live a little more Earth-friendly.”

The free table in the Mundelein Center basement began in fall 2022, according to Theresa Ham, costume shop manager for the theater department. The theater department oversees the table, which is located down the hall from the stairs and elevators.

Since each performance requires different costumes and the basement has limited storage, the table lets the theater department free up space without throwing things away, according to Ham.

“It always seems sort of silly and wasteful to throw those resources in the trash,” Ham said. “Someone else is going to need them.”

Other than the clothes left on the table, Ham said she has seen Keurig machines, travel mugs and vintage shoes.

Rather than saving items for future performances or donating them to a thrift store, offering them to students first helps the department know they’re actually going somewhere and not lying idle, according to Ham.

“It’s a community builder,” Ham said. “Even though we’re not together when we’re sharing, we’re all sharing resources together.”

Second-year graduate student Lillianne John said she finds a sense of community through her frequent use of free bookshelves in the Crown Center for the Humanities. Unlike the tables in Mundelein and the SES, these shelves only offer books.

There are three sets of bookshelves on the third floor of Crown — one by the elevators, one between the philosophy and theology departments and one in the philosophy graduate student lounge. The books include topics like religion, history and philosophy, and almost all are second-hand donations, which John said are her favorite.

Joanne Brandstrader, administrative assistant for the theology department, said the department’s bookshelf has existed in their office space for decades but came to the public lobby around 2016. The shelf displays professors’ recently published works which are changed out at least once a semester, according to Brandstrader.

Unlike the free tables, these books aren’t meant to be given away or loaned out, Brandstrader said.

John said the shelves were the first thing she saw when she first stepped foot in Crown and ever since, she’s been hooked. One book especially caught her eye: “Blue Like Jazz” by Donald Miller. It was the very same book she remembered her father reading back home in India.

“I was like, ‘I can’t believe I’ve seen this book in two places,’” John said. “It’s like seeing a familiar friend.”

Students can leave dorm décor and school supplies on the free tables in SES and Mundelein as well as boxes inside their dorms, according to Erickson. The boxes are organized by the Think Green and Give program, which collects students’ clothes, toiletries and nonperishable food at the end of spring semester. Materials are then donated to partners around Rogers Park, including the thrift store Green Element.

Brian Haag, founder of Green Element, said thrifting and resale businesses can help slow down environmental destruction.

“Resale is something that’s very concrete — you know you’re doing something that’s protecting wilderness, protecting wildlife habitats,” Haag said. “If we got out of the habit of always buying new things, that would be another thing that would help.”

Featured image by Rachael Wexler / The Phoenix

Mao Reynolds

Mao Reynolds