When the announcement came from Dean Khurana that Harvard students would be required to move out of their Houses and First-Year dorms in response to the coronavirus, it undoubtedly sparked great fear and distress. With an uncertain future ahead, students made travel arrangements, packed their belongings, and prepared to finish the spring term remotely. But in the days leading up to this accelerated move off campus, the tradition of free-cycling – donating unwanted items that could still be used by others – remained.  

Harvard students made thousands of donations of non-perishable food, supplies, clothing, and household goods to nonprofit organizations like Habitat for Humanity, Furnishing Hope, the YWCA, and the Allston Brighton Food Pantry. Jessica Ding ’20, explained that because her entryway in Kirkland House was mostly made of seniors, many of them found donating to be a less wasteful option than throwing away their items they no longer wanted. At one point, Ding remembers that “the bags kept piling up at the bottom of the entryway until it was difficult to get to the door.”

The bags were soon recovered by Harvard Recycling and Waste Management. “Thanks to the efforts of dozens of volunteers, Harvard Recycling was able to recover a near-normal quantity of donations from this emergency move-out,” said Associate Manager, Recycling & Waste Services Rob Gogan. This year was truly a community effort as undergraduate volunteers who were not able to offer help with packing, sorting, and loading the trucks. Instead, Gogan shared he was amazed to see faculty, staff, and even Cambridge residents come together to fill the gaps. “A posse of Harvard staff, Cambridge and Allston neighbors and other friends of Harvard Recycling and Waste Management stepped in and made a big difference.”

Their generosity amounted to an impressive two van-loads of non-perishable food, toiletries, feminine hygiene products, and cleaning supplies delivered to Allston-Brighton Food Bank, two carloads of backpacks, shoes, and shopping bags delivered to Cambridge Friends Meeting MAAP program, and 24 van-loads of clothing and linens picked up by Simple Recycling in their signature pink bags.

David Harris, a long-time employee at the Allston Brighton Food Pantry, shared that staff was blown away by the sheer amount of supplies they were delivered. The organization has been serving a weekly Wednesday Community Supper for the past 30 years, and the influx of donations will give ABFP a much-needed cushion for supporting their patrons during the pandemic. Unopened shampoo and soap are products in high demand. Allston-Brighton Food Bank said they are especially grateful to have a stockpile of these items that came at no extra cost to their ongoing efforts.

As the world finds itself in a moment of crisis, it is now more important than ever to celebrate the little victories: from the kindness of pitching in to help organize supplies, to the steady stream of donations that will make all the difference to someone in need, sustainable efforts are bringing people together in solidarity. These efforts now and after will pave the way forward as we reduce, reuse, repair and rebuild.