What happens to items left behind at the end of a school year? Enter BC Clean, a program that combines elements of sustainability, community outreach, and social awareness.

It’s been a fact of life at many an academic institution: When a school year ends, farewells have been exchanged, and the campus residence halls stand empty, what do you do with any stuff left behind?

Boston College has found a solution in BC Clean, a program that combines elements of sustainability, community outreach and social awareness.

Through BC Clean – organized by the Office of Residential Life in collaboration with Custodial Services and the Office of Sustainability – students can donate unwanted items in good condition, such as clothing, non-perishable food, books, appliances, as well as general household goods and furniture. All donations are collected by local non-profit organizations who distribute them to individuals and families in the greater Boston community.

While BC Clean reflects the University’s Jesuit, Catholic values put into action, it also represents a nexus of interdepartmental collaboration to make a good idea an even better, more workable one.

“We see BC Clean as at the center of the institutional mission,” says program co-administrator, Jessica Graf, Assistant Director for Residential Ministry in Residential Life. “BC students seek opportunities to serve others in many parts of the US and abroad, which is vital, of course. But it’s also critical for them to recognize that there is great need in our own backyard. BC Clean is a means to do that.

“Donating is a way for students to leave a part of themselves, and know that it’s going to help someone.”

“BC Clean is a win-win,” says Director of Custodial Services Gerard Boyle, another co-administrator. “It addresses something that every year is a very big task for the University, and does so in a way that not only involves students and staff, but also the outside community.”

 Household Goods, a nonprofit that provides a full range of donated furniture and household items to help people and families in need, is among recipients of items donated through BC Clean
Household Goods, a nonprofit that provides a full range of donated furniture and household items to help people and families in need, is among recipients of items donated through BC Clean.

This past spring, BC Clean collected 1,476 boxes and bags of linens, dishes, clothes hangers and similar items; 648 small appliances; 137 microwave ovens; 1,026 lamps; 536 tables, chairs, bookcases and other furniture; 1,751 small items, 1,552 other assorted items, and 7,800 books.

These were donated to Household Goods, which provides a full range of donated furniture and household items to help people and families in need; The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which accepts clothing, non-perishables and refrigerators; and More Than Words, a non-profit that seeks books for youths who are experiencing homelessness, in foster care or at-risk situations.

Such results are typical of BC Clean, which was established in 2011, but the story is about more than numbers, say organizers.

The program was the outgrowth of previous initiatives with a similar mission, notably the Alumni Association’s Cleansweep program, created in 1992. Despite laudable aims and hard work from volunteers, however, the volume of unwanted and discarded – and unorganized – items left behind made for an inefficient and costlier clean-up operation for Facilities Services personnel.

Among other things, BC Clean entailed streamlining the number of charitable organizations receiving donated items, thus cutting down on logistics and campus traffic. It also emphasized the role of Residential Life in putting the onus on students to be pro-active, set aside items for donation and bring them to designated areas. Resident assistants and other residence hall staff in particular proved to be a valuable component of the program by helping spread the word about BC Clean, and being available on move-out days to assist students and their families.

As a result, says Graf, students have taken a very important message to heart. “While everyone knows that Boston College speaks about being ‘men and women for and with others,’ what does that mean for BC Clean? For one thing, it means being respectful of our Custodial and Housekeeping staff and the job they do to maintain the campus, including residence halls.

“But it also means being connected to the wider world beyond us, including people in need as well as those who seek to provide help to the community. We encourage students to be active in the outreach through BC Clean, and to understand the missions of our BC Clean partners and how they serve the community.”

The BC Clean cycle typically begins in late January, when BC coordinators meet with representatives from the three charitable organizations to go over last year’s operation and discuss changes for the current year – this spring, for example, saw the addition of the Thomas More and Reservoir Apartments to the list of participating residence halls. Throughout the spring, Residential Life promotes the program to students through bulletin board announcements, social media campaigns and emails from resident directors.

And then, Graf says, suddenly after two weeks of having the lounges set up for donation drop-offs, it’s senior move-out day, and student and professional staff members are at their assigned locations ready to help students and their parents/guardians figure out what goes where. Her supervisor, Associate Director for Selection, Development and Formation Michael Lorenz, plays a huge part in ensuring the lounges stay well-organized for donations as well as the multiple pick-ups the community partners make over the donation period.

“Our focus is on the students and their families, because there’s a lot on their minds,” she says. “After all, this is a busy day, and it can be an emotional one – especially for a graduating senior. And there’s always the possibility that, no matter how well they’ve packed the stuff up, they’ll have to leave one or two things behind. So we want to make it as easy as possible for them to find where to leave donations.”

For the future, BC Clean administrators are mulling volunteer opportunities for other University employees, and adding selected BC departments, offices and programs as beneficiaries for some donations.    

“We’re always looking to fine-tune the program, and that includes getting more of the University community involved and invested in it,” says Boyle. “BC Clean is something Boston College should take pride in, and we want everyone to see the good that comes from it.”

Learn more at the BC Clean website.

—Sean Smith | University Communications