by Lauren Graves
Free Store: This unusual oxymoron is now a reality on campus. And, as the name implies, students, faculty and students can come to the Cougar Free Store and take whatever they want, no payment necessary.
“You go in and just take whatever you need,” says Kate Liseo, student intern at the Center for Sustainable Development (CSD), which runs the Free Store. “The only thing you need to do is sign out what you took on the sheet near the door.”
The store is stocked with donated clothing, dorm supplies, school supplies, housewares and books.
“There is a pretty short list of items that we don’t accept,” says Liseo, noting that the store does not accept unsanitary items or large appliances like mini-fridges. “Otherwise, if you think that someone else would get good use out of it, we’ll take it.”
The goal of the Free Store is to cut down on waste.
“The College of Charleston has a goal to be zero waste by 2035, and this is an opportunity for the reuse of waste instead of that waste going into the landfill,” says Darcy Everett, sustainability director at the CSD.
Every spring, when students are moving out of the residence halls, the CSD provides Goodwill donation bins – which prompted Everett to wonder how those donations could be circulated back into the campus community instead?
The Free Store was her answer.
Liseo, a senior psychology major who has interned for the CSD since her sophomore year, has focused on the Free Store since it opened in the fall of 2020. “Working at the Free Store has been pretty rewarding because I’ve been able to watch it grow. We’re getting a lot more donations now, and there’s a really good balance of goods going out and goods coming in. People are using it really respectfully.”
The Free Store’s benevolence reaches beyond the doors of the CSD through its pop-up clothing swaps and local partnerships.
“One thing we like to do are swaps around campus because we can get more information about the Free Store out to students that don’t happen to come by the store,” explains Liseo.
“Free store?” confused students exclaim after reading the sign by the pop-up: “How can it be free?” and “Is it actually free, or is that a joke?”
It’s no joke – and last semester the Free Store participated in business casual clothing swaps with Women in Business and with the Master of Business Administration program. These swaps were such a success that the Free Store now has a permanent rack for business casual clothes.
Currently, the Free Store is collecting glass jars for their partnership with the Stone Soup Collective, which provides free soup to the community, and white dresses for their partnership with Cistern Closet, which provides free dresses to graduating students.
The Free Store is located at 207 Calhoun Street in the Center for Sustainable Development. It is open 9 a.m.–5 p.m. every weekday except Tuesday.
More information, including how to get involved, is available on the Cougar Free Store website. For information on upcoming pop-ups and other events, follow @sustaincofc on social media.
For more information about the College’s Zero Waste Initiative, visit zerowaste.cofc.edu.
Article, video and photos by senior communication major Lauren Graves