Have no fear, Grad Bag is here

As the semester comes to a close, students are probably wondering what to do with all of the items they used during the year that they don’t plan on using next year. Students could throw these items out, or they could donate to Grad Bag, a donation-based organization that cleans and repackages used dorm supplies and distributes them to students who may not have the financial means to buy these supplies on their own. Grad Bag serves anyone in the Boston area. In Boston, Grad Bag is partnered with Babson College, Wellesley College and as of recently, Brandeis University.

Grad Bag was created by Liz Gruber and Tara Smith Tyberg in 2012. Gruber and Tyberg previously worked at an organization in Scarsdale, NY. While working on a project, the issue of campus waste and the expenses of living in a college dorm came up during a conversation. Tyberg had noticed the overwhelming amount of items that people threw into the dumpster as they moved out of their dorms when she was picking up her daughter from college. Gruber and Tyberg then decided to put an advertisement in the Scarsdale Inquirer asking for items. Once they had received all the donations, they washed all the items at their houses in order to make sure that the items would be desirable to students.

As Grad Bag began to grow, they formed a partnership with Let’s Get Ready, a non-profit organization that supports first-generation incoming college students and low-income high school students as they apply to college. The newly formed organization also created a Transition Day workshop, with 30 students in the first workshop that was held, in which the organization provided these individuals with free SAT prep, admissions counseling and post-enrollment mentoring to low-income and first-generation students. The next year, Grad Bag began partnering with universities in the Northeast.

For the Grad Bag Boston region, items that are donated are retrieved by a moving company and are taken to a storage area. Then the donations are taken to Temple Shalom in Newton. High school students aid in cleaning and fixing the items in the temple during the summer. These services are all volunteer based. During the distribution of the goods, a “store” is created during college transition workshops in August where students can take items.

Mary Fischer, the Sustainability Manager at Brandeis who facilitated the partnership between Brandeis and Grad Bag, believes that what makes Grad Bag unique is the fact that they launder, clean and re-distribute items that students donate. Many other donation organizations do not clean the donations that they receive. Fischer believes that “It’s important for the students benefiting from Grad Bag to feel that they are getting good-quality items—such as a clean set of sheets and a fan or lamp that actually works.”

In the words of Fischer, “Grad Bag has identified a much-needed niche in the world of donated goods” by providing students with dorm essentials that they are excited to use in college, rather than something they picked up from Goodwill.

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