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Sale of PSU student castoffs nets $37,500 for United Way

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

By Tom Gibb, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

STATE COLLEGE -- The 66 tons of student throwaways, from clothes to used compact discs, could have been riding garbage trucks to landfills somewhere.

Instead, most of it is in the hands of thousands of people who poured into a mega-yard sale at Penn State's University Park campus over the weekend. And the proceeds -- $37,500, after about $2,000 in expenses -- are in the hands of the United Way of Centre County.

As rain fell early Saturday morning, a line of people four abreast wrapped halfway around Penn State's Beaver Stadium, waiting to surge in for first crack at the gear -- from never-worn clothes to table fans to a pair of Nikes, size elephantine.

"When the gates opened at 7, they bolted in. They were giddy, cheering," Al Matyasovsky, Penn State University director of central support services and an overseer of the sale, said yesterday. "It was a sight to behold."

When the final pair of $2 jeans and calfskin coat and the last of a score of television sets, 3,000 rugs and half-filled shampoo bottles were gone, officials from Penn State and the United Way tallied and realized they'd far surpassed the $15,000 raised during last year's inaugural attempt at turning castoffs to cash.

In addition to the $37,500 contribution, packaged food -- 6 tons of it, with an estimated worth of $18,000 -- that had been left behind by the students was given to the State College-area food bank.

The throwaways are almost a collegiate rite, with students packing to leave at the end of the school year and discarding what they can't jam into cars. And it happens everywhere.

Lisa Heller, now at Brown University, was a Syracuse University student a decade ago when she climbed into a trash bin hunting a lost ring. Instead, she found a microwave oven, crutches, a television and a collection with century-old stamps that she recycled into a Christmas gift for her father.

"And there were tons of food, canned food, enough to feed a family of four for a month," Heller said.

That helped give birth to Dump and Run, her nonprofit effort to coach colleges nationwide on turning castoffs into cash for charity.

While not affiliated with Dump and Run, Penn State's effort -- dubbed Trash to Treasure -- follows the same pattern and may be the biggest of the lot. And yes, yard sale pilgrims, after the first two sales went smashingly, Matyasovsky guesses that Trash to Treasure III will come next spring.

"There were people from all over," he said. "People were calling the United Way, asking for directions on getting here from Pittsburgh."

Tom Gibb can be reached at tgibb@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1601.

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