LOUISVILLE, Ky. — College campuses across the country have long operated food pantries to serve students, but one Kentucky university taking things the extra mile with a “Free Store” for the entire campus community.
The space is like a thrift store, where no money is exchanged. It’s run by student volunteers, interns with the idea to reduce, reuse and recycle.
The University of Louisville Free Store is open to not only students but staff, too. In a time where inflation is contributing to rising costs, people in need can pick up clothing, electronics, small appliances, household items, bath & beauty supplies, books, school & art supplies and even non-perishable food.
“We’re always looking to make sure there’s a variety of sizes. We have mediums and we have smalls. We also try to manage our inventory so it doesn’t stay on the shelf too long,” said Justin Mog, who serves as the Assistant to the Provost for Sustainability Initiatives at UofL.
Since 2009, he’s had the chance to serve in his role at UofL’s campus. He heads its Free Store, which started collecting shoes, pots, pans and so much more in 2013.
“Sometimes we get things like computer keyboards, binders, notebooks and clip boards and all this stuff,” said Mog.
And to get the free stuff, students and staff just have to scan a code for an anonymous head count for future data about how many people they serve.
The Arlington, Virginia native has been committed to serving a campus community since he was an undergrad.
“I was an environmental studies major in college and then in grad school, too,” Mog said. “I’ve always been interested in being a change agent and a do-er.”
With the help of UofL student volunteers, the Free Store moved from the bottom of Unitas Tower to the Student Activities Center shortly after inception. Everywhere on campus is a reminder that resources like this exist with signs planted into the grass.
“We rely on donations from the community to make this Free Store possible. Our donation bin has always been back here [behind Unitas Tower],” said Mog.
Mog says items are donated into the large red bins all the time but especially before or after breaks. The bins can be found behind Unitas Tower by Cardinal Blvd on campus.
“You can donate stuff to the Free Store 24/7 and we only want clean, non-ripped and useful items that we don’t have to sew or repair,” said Mog.
Mog also oversees the on-campus food pantry, Commonwealth Credit Union Cardinal Cupboard. He often encounters students who have a hard time using the resources because they realize the reality of needing it.
“This is the first time people are starting to think, ‘Oh my gosh, if my meal plan runs out or if the dining hall is closed, how am I going to eat? I don’t have a kitchen to go to,’” said Mog.
If students don’t feel comfortable or don’t have time, they can request items be put in lockers and picked up at their convenience. As for the Free Store’s future, Mog hopes for a larger space to accept furniture and bigger items.
UofL students and staff can shop at the Free Store Mondays through Thursdays from 12 to 6 p.m. The Office of Sustainability will also host a monthly pop up free sale during the last Tuesday of each month. If you wish to volunteer or keep up with Free Store, click here.
The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education is in the middle of conducting an asset map of student ’ basic needs resources available at all institutions in Kentucky. It should be completed in early 2023.