FreeStore runs on community donations

Imagine a store where you don’t have to pay for the inventory, a store that stays open solely due to donations. This is the premise of the FreeStore. Located at the top of the Lola Tilly building on lower campus, the FreeStore is a store focused on recycling clothing, appliances, and other miscellaneous items to combat waste production from the university.

“Honestly the FreeStore’s goal is just to have as many students use it as a resource. Just have items be constantly donated and items be constantly put away. And with the more people using it and showing their friends that ‘hey we got free stuff’ that’s the main goal,” Sabina Karwowski, the FreeStore office assistant, said.

On the website for the Office of Sustainability in their FreeStore section the mission statement is as follows:

“The mission of the FreeStore is to help the University of Alaska Fairbanks reduce it’s ecological footprint by reducing the amount of resources it uses and waste it produces.”

The Free Store has been operating since 2013 according to Karwowski.

“We moved into this office around the end of 2012 and Christin Anderson who was a UAF student, she graduated as an environmentalist a couple of years ago, she introduced me to this whole program and she’s been getting a lot of other students involved and she’s the one who created it in 2013. So it’s been going really well for four years.” Karwowski said.

Christin Anderson was the actually the creator of the Free Store according to Kawowski. Anderson was from Ohio where the campus had a free store set up for students. After seeing that UAF was sans FreeStore, Anderson set out to create one, pulling in resources and students to help.

Clothing appears to be the most donated item, according to Kawowski.

T-shirts and jeans are frequently donated items that the FreeStore is never short in supply of. Racks of clothing can be seen hung up in the windows of the top floor. From UAF swag shirts to assorted band t-shirts, the racks are seldom void of items. The store has a sheet of paper for students to keep track of donations as well as items they take from the store, just so the staff can keep track of how many students visit the store.

Molly Moses, a UAF student, expressed her thoughts on the FreeStore while perusing the hangers for more items on Thursday.

“I get a lot of shirts from here. Mostly just shirts and jackets. I like it, it’s a good idea, I think it’s really for all the students. There’s a lot of room for everything,” Moses said.

Kawowski gives a rough estimate of around 7 to 10 people visiting the store day-to-day donating items, but she also notes the bulk of the donations to the FreeStore being thanks to not only diverse donators but by larger donations.

“I would say that actually most of our donations are one-time drop off. Like usually by someone who can donate one hundred items at once. And that is when we get a lot of diversity; like a really nice coat, or some electronics, or kitchen appliances, kitchen appliances are really craved for at the free store,” Kawowski stated.

Kawowski, as well as organizing the donations for the FreeStore, organizes events and up-cycling craft nights every month.

“Next Friday, October 27th, I’m hosting my next one which is going to be Harry Potter wands. Out of chopsticks and hot glue and paint and some glitter. So we will be making wands while watching Harry Potter,” Kawowski said.

The FreeStore is open to not only students, but all of the Fairbanks community.

“A lot of community members use it as well. It is open to everybody during the hours. We highly recommend that community members use it as well because then they get a passion to donate and then it just kind of grows even more,” Kawowski said.

The FreeStore never disposes of the donations that are given to them unless they aren’t worthy of donation; i.e. torn to shreds, or broken. According to Kawowski, the donations that stay in the store for over a year, or aren’t quite up to quality of other donations are taken to Value Village or the transfer site on Farmer’s Loop. This allows the recycling to continue as community members are able to use the clothing and other materials as they wish to.

The FreeStore is always looking for more donations. Students can visit the store during the business hours as well as donate items when the store is closed to a bin that is outside the front doors labeled “donations.”

The hours are currently noon – 5 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and then noon – 2 p.m. on Fridays. These hours are different than the regular hours for staffing convenience.

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