Oct. 20, 2023
VCU Free Store reopens in new space with no-cost goods and a ‘thrift store vibe’
From housewares to school supplies, the service from VCU Sustainability supports students while diverting items from the waste stream.
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Blenders and bowls and wall art, oh my! These are just a few of the things Virginia Commonwealth University students can get for no cost at the Free Store, which opens in a new space on Oct. 25.
A service of VCU Sustainability, which is part of Facilities Management, the Free Store allows students, as well as faculty and staff at VCU and VCU Health, to donate and acquire books, art supplies and household items while keeping usable goods out of landfills.
“It provides an opportunity for VCU community members to contribute to student success and student well-being – and at the same time, take action to improve our environment by diverting goods from the waste stream,” said Ann Kildahl, director of sustainability.
She said a Free Store popup over the summer was extremely successful, highlighting the impact on the VCU community. Students kept asking about when the popup would happen again.
“Many students came in [just before classes started], and their excitement, the appreciation they felt, was palpable,” Kildahl said. “It was fantastic.”
In its new location at 930 W. Grace St., the Free Store will initially be open three days a week – Wednesday through Friday – from noon to 4 p.m., and students can browse on an appointment basis; each visit will be 10 to 15 minutes.
During the first two weeks, students will need to make an appointment using their VCU eID. Kildahl said the store's inventory will be managed through a tiered system, with points assigned to items based on value. For example, a small appliance will be five points, while a mixing spoon will only be one. Each student will be allowed three points per month, with five-point items allowed only once a semester. Kildahl said this will promote equitable access.
The Free Store collects donations in several ways. At the end of each semester, VCU Sustainability works with Residential Life & Housing to collect goods that students leave behind as they move out. The program also welcomes donations from faculty, staff and other community members.
“We get a lot of positive comments from people who donate. They're so pleased to know that the things they don't need are going to go directly into the hands of VCU students,” Kildahl said.
Items at the Free Store include school and art supplies, kitchen and housewares, items for the bathroom, home decor and artwork. The Free Store does not accept clothing or textiles/bedding.
The new location has a “thrift store vibe,” Kildahl said. “You might walk in thinking, ‘Oh, I really need some stuff for the kitchen.’ And then you'll discover you found exactly what you needed. It's exciting.”
The Free Store initially opened in 2019 in the same building as the RamBikes bicycle service. It closed the following year amid the pandemic.
At its new Grace Street location, the Free Store shares space with the Ram Pantry service and VCU Sustainability’s main office.
“The move here is a really positive one for lots of reasons,” Kildahl said. “Being here gives us greater visibility [and] greater convenience for students. We're right in the heart of things on Grace Street.”
VCU Sustainability has also set up flexible programming space in the building. It offers movable seating and a TV with hookups, so students can use it for group meetings or social gatherings.
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