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Texas State students' trash proves worth

By Roger Croteau
San Antonio Express-News
June 8, 2007

SAN MARCOS — Every summer, when Texas State University students packed up and left town, trash bins in or near the campus were filled with perfectly good clothes, furniture and other items students didn't want or couldn't fit in their cars.

Six years ago, university officials decided too much was going to waste and started the "Pack It Up and Pass It On," program so students could donate those items. Volunteers gather them up, sort them and invite hundreds of needy families in to "shop" for free.

Victor Lopez was one of the first in line at the annual event Thursday, arriving at the LBJ Student Center at 5 a.m., two hours before its ballroom was opened. Minutes after it started, he was on his way to his car, carrying a 20-inch flat screen television.

"It's for my aunt," he said. "She just moved into her place and this will help a lot."

Then he got back to the end of the line, which had stretched a couple of hundred yards at one point, to fill up some bags with clothes.

"That's my friend Ivan," he said, pointing to another man, wheeling two bicycles to his vehicle.

The crowd was orderly but in a hurry to get the good stuff before it was picked over. Some of the others first through the doors left with full sets of dinnerware, an oak bookcase and a computer.

"This is my first time here," said Myrtle Howard. "I'm hoping to maybe get a lamp, or an ironing board, or mirrors or a carpet."

Volunteer Grace Johnson guarded a pile of clothes for one family while they searched for other useful items.

"It's quite an event," she said. "It's a very humbling time. You just really see how many people there are who can use a hand. It's incredible that the university does this."

By 7:20 a.m., 371 people had entered the ballroom.

"I think I came a little late," said Jamie Moody, who had collected some toys and clothes for his two children.

Anthony Renna had been hoping to score a computer, but they were all gone before he arrived.

"I got some shirts and rugs and a sleeping bag and some sneakers," he said. "I got a late start, but it's all good."

Local United Way agencies, the San Marcos Housing Authority, schools and the Texas State University Office of Community Relations distribute vouchers that give people access to the Pack It Up and Pass It On event. About 800 families were helped this year.

Most of the goods were donated by the 6,000 students who had just moved out of campus dormitories. More came from three university-owned off-campus apartment buildings, and other students and staff also dropped off items.

"It takes the volunteers three days to sort through all of this," said Kim Porterfield, Texas State's Director of Community Relations. "Our goal is to get rid of all of it."

"It's true recycling," she said. "Before we started this, the neighborhood associations complained about overflowing Dumpsters and Dumpster diving. When people do that, other trash falls out of the Dumpster and blows around."