As part of the Office of Sustainability's Greening Move Out program last spring, we kicked off a new donation partnership with Grad Bag, an organization dedicated to finding new homes for unwanted, reusable products left behind by students at colleges and universities in the Northeast. In 2018 over 14,000 pounds of linens were collected, in addition to lamps, rugs, pillows, storage containers, fans, hangers and much more, providing dorm items to nearly 1,000 students.
The organization was founded by Liz Gruber and Tara Smith Tyberg in 2012. As their website states, they "collect, clean, package, store and re-distribute dorm room items to soon-to-be college students who might not have the means to buy these things on their own." This past summer, we were invited to the Grad Bag giveaway in New York City in partnership with Let's Get Ready to see the impact of the donations in person. Our Greening Move Out program donated 140 bags of linens (about 2,000 pounds) as well as some dorm accessories to Grad Bag. Following the giveaway event, we had a chance to interview Liz Gruber to learn more about the program. The interview below has been edited for clarity and length.
Why and how did you start Grad Bag?
Tara and Liz worked on a Scarsdale organization together and were at a meeting when the topic of waste at campus move outs came up in conversation. Tara had noticed the amount of waste when moving her daughter out of school, kids were just throwing stuff away in dumpsters that were close to new and could be reused. In 2012, they decided to act. They advertised in the Scarsdale Inquirer for donations and washed everything in their homes. They wanted everything to look nice, and packaged everything in the hopes that students would want used items. Partnering with Let's Get Ready from the start, they held the first Transition Day workshop, with 30 students. Let's Get Ready provides free SAT prep, admission counseling, and post-enrollment mentoring to students from low-income backgrounds and first-generation students to help them get into and graduate from college. Many of these students don't know what they need for college, and at the Transition Day workshop are able to obtain these items for free from Grad Bag. Liz commented, "Everything went quickly".
The following year they started contacting colleges and Barnard and Vassar provided donations. Each year they learn more, refine their efforts, and aim to serve more students. "The need is clearly there," Liz stated. They are now working with 12 colleges, in New York and Boston.
How does Grad Bag operate?
The effort is truly volunteer and donation based. The truck used to transport donations is donated, the laundry cleaning is donated by Unitex and the carpet cleaning is donated by Stanley Steemer. Westchester Reform Temple provides space for Grad Bag to work in their classrooms. Volunteers from the area come to "Community Folds" where cleaned sheets are folded and prepared for packaging. With the increase in donations, they began to pay students over the summer to organize all of the items.
What are some of Grad Bag’s biggest challenges?
Logistics and fundraising are the biggest challenges- storage, transportation, recruiting and supervising employees, organizing pick-ups and drop-offs at colleges, and making sure that everything gets done in 2 months!
What would you say is Grad Bag's biggest success?
The Let’s Get Ready Transition Day has grown because of the Grad Bag giveaway. Liz calls it “a happy day”. The ultimate goal of Grad Bag was that they don't want the students to feel like they’re walking into Goodwill, they want them to go to college with nice things they can be proud of. Volunteers at the event help guide students to find items that they need, asking about color and style preferences, almost like a personal shopper. The experience "makes everybody feel good".
What are your future plans?
To find more partners like Let’s Get Ready and Y Pie - more partner organizations for donations, and more giveaways to reach students. Next year they hope to reach all 5 boroughs of the New York Area. At the time of interview, Grad Bag was working on getting their own 501C3 status.
News Highlights from Grad Bag's Giveaway: