Olivia Paxson, Johana Guci and Jasmine Haraburda
Where the price is right
"Freestore" volunteers help make sure struggling students have a place to re-supply in these anxious times.
Think of the many items you forgot to bring to college. Now imagine not being able to go home to get them.
That’s a dilemma many students face, with travel discouraged in the time of Covid. Meanwhile, a poor economy has vanquished the part-time jobs that generated spending money. What’s a struggling college student to do?
At Case Western Reserve University, they can drop into the Student Resource Center, better known as the “freestore,” next door to Mitchell’s Ice Cream in the Uptown district. There, they can find free clothing, kitchen supplies and student volunteers trying to help them through a school year like none other.
“A lot of students are in a position where school is much different than they expected,” said Olivia Paxson, a co-founder and manager of the store. A senior majoring in civil engineering, Paxson leads a volunteer corps teeming with STEM majors—early problem solvers. They could use a little alumni help.
Demand for sweaters and jackets is rising as temperatures drop. The shop needs gently-used warm clothing, even spirit wear—yes, your old Case sweaters that no longer fit. Find drop-off details below.
“I think a lot of times students don’t realize how much they’re going to need” when they go away to college, Paxson observed. Others misjudged what it takes to furnish an off-campus apartment, which they were forced to find after Covid precautions bounced them from the dorms.
“A lot of these things are expensive,” Paxson said, looking across a small, hastily-arranged thrift shop on a recent afternoon. Second-hand shoes and boots were lined under a table stacked with sweaters and sweatshirts. Slacks and skirts hung from clothing racks, which even held some formal-wear—for job interviews. Around the corner was a new addition, a mini food pantry.
Nearby, ready to help, stood Jasmine Haraburda, a fourth-year biology major, and Johana Guci, a first-year biochemistry major. Like Paxson, they are part of a confederacy of student groups that mustered to launch the shop this fall. Since it opened September 19, more than 200 students have come through.
The freestore is an initiative of Undergraduate Student Government, the Undergraduate Diversity Collaborative, Student Activities & Leadership and the Office for Energy and Sustainability, which saw an extension of its sustainability mission. The team includes the university’s Office of Real Estate, which provided the 1,300 square-foot storefront.
Paxson is co-chair of the store’s steering committee, along with Sharan Mehta, a third-year computer science major and a Peer Advisor for the Case School of Engineering. They partner with campus groups, including the Center for Civic Engagement and Scholarship, to recruit and train volunteers.
It’s coincidence that so many of the clerks are STEM majors, Paxson laughed. She reached out to friends in her major to help, and they did the same.
Shortly before 1 p.m., a knock on the door brought in a quiet young man. He was early for his time slot but the volunteers beckoned him in. To assure social distancing, students must schedule their visits via the website of CampusGroups. Once inside, they are allowed to choose five items, free.
“A lot of them come looking for winter jackets, warm sweaters, hats and gloves,” Paxson said. “Some are stocking their own kitchen for the first time. We have a lot of students who are struggling to find things.”
And a lot of students who are trying to help.
Donations can be made during store hours: 1 to 5 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday at 11440 Uptown Avenue (next to Mitchell’s Ice Cream). Email email@example.com.
Olivia Paxson in the Free Store.