Small Event, Huge Impact

After 20 years, the Kresge Great Junk Giveaway ends due to budget and pest concerns

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Students collected treasures from the first Kresge Great Junk Giveaway in 1993. This fall was the last run of the long-standing tradition. Photo courtesy of Robin McDuff.
Students collected treasures from the first Kresge Great Junk Giveaway in 1993. This fall was the last run of the long-standing tradition. Photo courtesy of Robin McDuff.

During welcome week of every school year, eager students line up outside of Kresge Town Hall in the hopes of getting first pick of the free stuff at the Great Junk Giveaway.

Once the doors open, students frantically try to grab anything of value, making friends and enemies along the way and leaving with armloads of treasures.

While people lined up this year, Kresge announced this year’s giveaway would be the last because of budget and pest problems. The process of collecting, storing and redistributing items takes a lot of paid labor and also raised concerns about infestations while everything sat in storage over the summer.

“It’s just too bad they can’t keep running it because it’s such a Kresge thing,” said Heidi Hernandez, a Kresge fourth-year and four-time giveaway attendee.

The event started around 1993 in an effort to reduce waste and connect generations of the Kresge community. It has taken place in early fall annually since then.

Robin McDuff, retired Kresge facilities manager, started the giveaway after seeing reusable things like microwaves, bicycles and stereo equipment thrown away at the end of every year.

“Our dumpsters were overflowing, and it was just a big mess,” McDuff said. “I thought, here’s a great way to connect the community from year to year. Instead of throwing away stuff, if [students] thought that they saw something that was of value to just leave it, and we would collect it, hold it for the summer and then give it back to the new Kresge students.”

For Ian Mitchell, Kresge’s senior building maintenance worker who has facilitated the giveaway since 2000, connecting with students was one of the most crucial benefits of the giveaway. It gave him an opportunity to teach new students about the importance of submitting Fixit tickets and gave students a chance to meet the person who would be responding to the tickets. Most students who met Mitchell at the giveaway are now on a first name basis with him.

Now that the giveaway is ending, Mitchell will have to find another way to connect with incoming first years. Although he is disappointed it’s ending, he understands why from the university’s perspective. It takes a lot of money in labor to put on the giveaway. Mitchell estimates it costs “at least a couple thousand [dollars].”

Kresge student maintenance workers, led by Mitchell, had to collect the students’ donations before the school year ended and move them into storage. When the school year started again, they moved them into the Town Hall before the giveaway, then cleaned up, sorted and disposed of the leftovers afterward.

If the only problem was budget, Mitchell said he would have protested ending the Great Junk Giveaway. For him the most concerning problem was the possibility of introducing pests into the Kresge apartments.

In recent years, donations were stored in the Music Co-Op over the summer, which left a possible breeding ground for bedbugs and cockroaches. There were only a couple of instances of infestations in Kresge over the years, but as a preventative measure Mitchell set traps in the giveaway storage over the summer in case there were any in the donations. If he found even one bug, he would have thrown out all of the donations. Eradicating infestations are very costly, which is why the preventative measure of ending the giveaway was chosen.

While the university will save money by ending the giveaway, students will lose out. First years once were able to stock their new homes with dish racks, decorations and TVs without having to buy them, and for many students, saving money was the greatest benefit of the giveaway. Jay Edem, a Kresge first-year feels that taking away the giveaway is adding to the student financial burden.

“I feel like nowadays the educational institution is all about charging kids to better their futures, and this is a way to help kids deal with that by giving them things that they need,” Edem said. “By cutting this, it’s just making kids and people more broke. And what type of school can honestly say that they’re all for the students if they’re down to cut things that help the students.”

Now that the giveaway is ending, another big concern is waste. Robin McDuff, who founded the Great Junk Giveaway is worried that things left by Kresge students might end up in the waste stream because donating to the giveaway is no longer an option. Fortunately, the other colleges have a collection system through Goodwill and Hope Services that Kresge can join at the end of the spring quarter, which is free for the university. Even though things like unopened food and clothes will be reused, “It’s sad that it won’t end up back with Kresge people,” McDuff said.

Although the Great Junk Giveaway seems like a small event, it has had a great impact. The giveaway played a big role in the Kresge community, just like the first-year apartments and the trailer park, and taking them away might eliminate the unique personality that Kresge has, said Sawyer Simmons, Kresge parliament chair and fourth-year.

“Every college has this feel to it. You know, their little quirks,” Simmons said. “I think that in losing the Great Junk Giveaway and rebuilding Kresge, we might lose a lot of that.”

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Shinae Lee is Arts and Culture Editor for City on a Hill Press. She has reported for every desk at City on a Hill in her two years on the paper, but has focused most of her time until now as a campus reporter and editor. She describes her favorite reporting subject as, “in-depth stories about things that really matter to people.” Though she focuses much of her time on the newspaper, she is also a Feminist Studies major, vice president of the Korean American Student Association, print coordinator for Student Media and occasional babysitter. In her scarce and precious free time she can be found organizing her life artistically in her bullet journal, watching The Great British Baking Show or traveling on a budget.