By Jonah Grinkewitz

When students move out from their dorms, they inevitably leave behind unwanted or unused items. At the end of this past spring semester, a group of nearly 50 Old Dominion University students helped make sure these items went back to students in need as well as to members of the local community.

Working with ODU’s Housing & Residence Life, students sorted more than 800 pounds of clothing, shoes and other household items to donate to local CHKD Thrift Stores, completely filled the Monarch Clothing Closet and Monarch Thrift programs and stocked the Monarch Pantry with about $3,000 worth of groceries.

The Monarch Clothing Closet, Monarch Thrift and Monarch Pantry programs provide free clothes and food to currently enrolled ODU students.

The students also partnered with Union Mission Ministries to recycle clothing or bedding that would have otherwise been thrown away. 

"Knowing that ODU students care for each other, either through donating items or volunteering their time, really makes me proud to say I go to ODU," said Koral Mack-Plaza, a May 2024 graduate who helped with the effort.

Two women load donation items onto a golf cart.
Kara Boone (left) and Britney Kouassi (right) load donation items onto a golf cart. Photo courtesy of Kara Boone/ODU

Kara Boone used to work as a hall director at Whitehurst Hall and said that Housing and Residence Life has been collecting items during student move-out for years. When she moved into her position as assistant director for Service-Learning in ODU’s Center for Career & Leadership Development in 2022, she reached out to them to partner on improving the process.

“I worked to not only expand the number of organizations and nonprofits who would benefit from the donations, but also to expand the volunteer base and create a campus-wide opportunity for students,” Boone said. “I think it is often underestimated how generous and caring our students are.”

Leading up to spring move-out, students were notified via email and through signage on campus that they could donate items to fellow students and community members in bins placed in residence hall lobbies.

Staff and student workers from Housing & Residence Life transported the items to a donation sorting center where students from across campus came together to help, including those from Global Student Friendship, who routed furniture and household items to benefit international students.

Boone helped implement another change to the move-out process this year, advertising to students that any unwanted items would be going back to students and the community. Every on-campus residence hall had donation bins and signage in the lobby for students to drop their items and emails were sent to students about the opportunity.

“Knowing that ODU students care for each other, either through donating items or volunteering their time, really makes me proud to say I go to ODU,” said Koral Mack-Plaza, a May 2024 graduate who helped with the effort. 

Two male students sort furniture for donation.
Two students from ODU's Global Student Friendship, a group dedicated to supporting the University's international students, sort furniture for donation. Photo courtesy of Kara Boone/ODU

Boone said that many students acquire additional items throughout the year, and when it comes time to move out, they’re limited on how much they can transport.

“Donating, not dumping,” she said. “And my goal, beyond that, is to get as many items as possible from these donations BACK to our students first, and then to local nonprofits and organizations.”

For the student volunteers, Boone said the experience taught them soft skills like communication, teamwork and problem solving and it was a way for them to make new friends.

“Through this experience, I got to meet so many students that wanted to get involved in volunteering on campus,” said Britney Kouassi, a senior biology major at ODU who is a student worker in the Center for Career & Leadership Development. “It was amazing to be able to put an actual face to the people these donations were benefiting.”

“Finding community, in any phase of life, is so important, and volunteering alongside a stranger is an amazing way to turn that stranger into a friend,” Boone added. “I’m a big believer that all of these volunteer efforts also help our community and our world by teaching empathy and actively showing compassion.”