By Ron Guillet
The Free Store is unique to others stores for one central reason: Thieves can obtain any item they wish, for free, without getting tackled by security moments thereafter.
That’s because The Free Store prides itself on delivering quality items to money-deprived university students free of charge. While there is currently a limited amount of space in the store, there is no shortage of useful supplies. Televisions, snowboards, DVDs, computers, coffee-makers, books, clothes and microwaves are just some of the items that are donated, and retrieved, from Laurentian University students.
Eric Kingsley, a Psychology student and volunteer at The Free Store, said the idea blossomed from its initial objective when it started making impactful changes in some students’ lives.
“The Free Store is something we started with the Sustainable Earth Club to try and reduce the amount of trash that goes into the landfills, but it evolved into something more,” Kingsley said. “Students are on average very poor and it’s a big deal for them to come here and, say, grab a telephone for home or have a new book that they can read or grab a couple pairs of clothes.”
Kingsley said the store has been especially beneficial to many international students who couldn’t bring their belongings from home.
“A lot of international students are getting screwed by tuition fees, paying three times what the average student pays, and they’re not allowed to bring a lot of stuff with them,” Kingsley said. “So every time you go to an international student’s apartment you’ll notice it’s very unfilled. It’s not to say they don’t want those things, but they can’t afford them. So it makes it big deal when we I see these students come by and leave with, let’s say, $500 worth of gear that they didn’t have to pay for. That makes a big difference in their life.”
Nadine Olivier, a Modern Language and Literature student and now store manager, plans on implementing new ideas to help the store evolve further.
“I’m hoping to add more of a store aspect idea because at first it didn’t have that because we wanted it to be more of a hangout area, and there wasn’t really management or anything like that,” Olivier said. “But now we realize we have to do add more of a store aspect to help it grow.”
Kingsley said that since the store’s inception this past February, they’ve had issues concerning greed from some of the students.
“We’ve noticed over the course of the school year that some people take more than their fair share,” Kingsley said. “We’re currently deciding if we should add item limits, or maybe put up some posters saying ‘Hey guys, we’re here to share, not feed your consumer whore tendencies.’”
The store also has plans to partner with the LU Coffee Club as well as extend its hours of operation.
“This is one of the only places that are open past 4 p.m.” Kingsley said. “We plan on being open until 7 p.m., right before night-time classes, so it’d be really great if we can have some coffee in here for students, listen to music and shop around.”
Besides offering free items, Olivier said The Free Store will also provide helpful advice.
“There are plans to start a project where people can come in and sign-up and list ideas of how to re-use clothes, t-shirts, or how to sew on things or get stains out of clothes,” Olivier said.
“Everything we buy comes from the natural world in one way or another, and we only have so many resources,” Kingsley added. “So why throw out that perfectly good shirt that has a small little stain on it?”
While both Olivier and Kingsley are in the final year of their respective programs, they plan on training new volunteers to take the reins when they’re gone.
But before you collect a box full of useless knick-knacks around the household, The Free Store would appreciate if students were mindful of any potential additions to the inventory.
“We don’t want ripped, torn, dirty, muddy clothes,” Kingsley said. “If you wouldn’t give it to a friend, don’t give it to us. We don’t accept undergarments or bathing suits or open cosmetics, like eye shadow or lipstick. And try to clean your items before bringing it in please.”