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Penn State students leave behind 66 tons of bargains

Thursday, May 22, 2003

By Tom Gibb, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- A Dumpster is supposed to be a colossal wastebasket. And a wastebasket is supposed to be for, well, waste.

Fraser Grigor, assistant director of housing services for Penn State University, walks past rows of computer monitors for sale at Penn State's Trash To Treasure Sale at Beaver Stadium. (Pat Little, Associated Press)

But a few years back, Al Matyasovsky -- his Penn State University job includes tracking the trash the school coughs out -- peered over the top of a dormitory Dumpster.

"On top, there's a computer, what looks like a good computer, and next to it, a good set of golf clubs," he said.

Dig deeper into those Dumpsters. Clothes with price tags still attached, furniture, big televisions, little televisions, hair dryers, carpets, table fans -- all being deep-sixed by students on their end-of-school-year exodus.

"Last year, I found a wedding dress thrown out," said Fraser Grigor, assistant director for special projects at Penn State's Housing and Food Services. "You have to wonder about the story behind that."

Put this stuff on sale, he and Matyasovsky figured, and people would pay for it.


Maurwen Mulenga, foreground, and other United Way volunteers seperate mounds of clothes for Penn State University's Trash To Treasure Sale at Beaver Stadium. (Pat Little, Associated Press)

All day Saturday, on ground-level walkways, along a quarter-mile route of folding tables under cover of Penn State's Beaver Stadium, the school will stage pretty much the colossus of yard sales. It will be 66 tons worth of rummage, from a set of six-foot-high speakers to some 3,000 rugs to maybe 1,100 shoes, to a 14-carat gold pendant -- all gear that didn't leave school with its owners.

When it's sold, Penn State will turn over its take to the local United Way.

That was $15,000 last year, when the sale was born in the cramped confines of the Penn State Ag Arena.

"This year," Matyasovsky said, "I bet we can double that."

The sale, dubbed Trash to Treasure, will be open with free admission from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. But Penn State figures that it's enough of a draw that, for $5, early birds can get first crack, from 7 until 8:30 a.m.

"Look at this stuff. I'm blown away," said Leslie Hagen, Matyasovsky's staff assistant, somewhere between tables laden with $2 jeans and gear like $48 Nikes, unused, now marked at $5. "Abercrombie, Old Navy, Tommy, Calvin Klein. If I'd thrown out stuff like this, my mother would have kicked my butt."

End-of-year tossing has become collegiate tradition.

"People are so burned out by the time they finish the term, the whole thing is to get out," said Gary Schwarzmueller, executive director of the Association of College and University Housing Officers-International. "It's amazing, appalling what they leave behind."

At Penn State's University Park -- 16,000 students in 42 dormitories, one of the biggest on-campus congregations in the country -- the appalling part came with a two-day surge of 182 tons of trash.

So, the school decided to pare the trash flow by selling what it could.

Some of the giveaways are mystifying.

Matyasovsky hoisted a pair of Banana Republic shoes, the stuffing paper still inside them. He unzipped the faux leather case of a two-piece pool cue.

"You'd think a student could've found a place for this in an automobile," he said.

But one-use-only is the American way, said Lisa Heller.

Last year, she was a doctoral student in communications at the University of Pittsburgh. This year, she's at Brown University, overseeing Dump and Run, a nonprofit effort she incorporated three years ago, offering expertise for pretty much the same kind of end-of-year sale they dreamed up at Penn State -- but spread to 20 colleges around the country.

Heller was born in Colombia and saw the hardscrabble existence dictating that almost anything used could be used again.

Penn State is taking pride at reforming wastrels.

Among the castoffs handed over by students are 6 tons of food, passed on to the local food bank. And it's good stuff -- from low-fat granola bars to packaged juices -- suggesting that modern-day collegians eat many of the same foods as humans.

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

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