Making a ‘clean break’ before graduation, in support of local communities

Each May, Brown’s Office of Sustainability and Resiliency gathers a wide range of donated items from students moving out of residence halls to donate to organizations in and around Providence.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Before she turned her attention to celebrating her graduation from Brown, Hannah Fernandez was busy leading a team of student volunteers who were collecting and sorting thousands of pounds of clothing, blankets, shoes, school supplies and other items to donate to organizations in and around Providence.

As an intern with Brown’s Office of Sustainability and Resiliency, Fernandez served as a coordinator for the annual Clean Break program, which gathers a wide range of donated items from Brown students moving out of their residence halls in May.

Fernandez, who just completed a five-year program and earned both bachelor’s and master of public health degrees, said Clean Break diverts landfill waste while supporting local neighbors and organizations.

“I really enjoyed being able to do more than simple waste diversion by leading a coordinated effort and working with our community partners to make sure that people who need these items are receiving them,” Fernandez said. “It’s important to make sure that we’re doing our best as part of the Providence community and working with our community partners to help solve the issues they’re working on.”

The 13 local organizations that received donated goods during Clean Break in May include the Refugee Dream Center, Crossroads Rhode Island, the Creative Reuse Center, Friends of the Mount Pleasant Library and Street Sights, which produces a magazine and resource guide for Rhode Islanders experiencing homelessness.

“We received things like food, clothes, sneakers, rain gear and bedding, which are so important for people in the community,” said Street Sights editor Janice Loungo as she picked up donation bags in Brown’s Jameson-Mead residence hall in late May. “The need is very high, and this program has given us so many things — it’s been wonderful.”

Brown enrolls nearly 11,000 students who hail from all 50 U.S. states and from over 100 countries. As many students scatter for the summer to places far and wide, it’s important to enable students to donate reusable items they can’t bring with them, said Missy Berry, a member of Brown’s Office of Sustainability and Resiliency who oversees the Clean Break program.

“Since Clean Break began in 2013, we have collected tens of thousands of pounds of donations each year, which makes a huge difference in the lives of the people who are supported by our community partners,” Berry said. “Not only does the program help divert waste from landfills, it gives useful items a second life and helps our friends and neighbors in Providence and beyond.”

The program relies on a small army of student volunteers and interns, who sort through thousands of pounds of donations and help categorize, organize and bag everything, Berry said.

“It can feel discouraging to see perfectly good stuff go to waste, so I think Clean Break does really important work diverting all of that stuff from the landfill and putting it into the hands and homes of people that actually need it,” said Sarah Frank, a member of the Class of 2025 concentrating English and philosophy, who was among the program volunteers this month.

Koren Carbuccia, a teaching associate in medical science at Brown who is co-director of the Interdisciplinary Navigation Partnership Program, collected everything from backpacks and canned foods, to cotton balls and cleaning supplies. Her program is part of a Warren Alpert Medical School initiative through which Brown medical students serve as advocates for people experiencing homelessness, and Carbuccia partnered with Clean Break to gather items for the program’s office and for clients to use when they transition to housing.

From umbrellas and fans to unopened Brita water filters, towels, wrapped bars of soap and school supplies, everything helps.

“This is the gift that keeps on giving,” said Audrey Laforge, who is president of Friends of the Mount Pleasant Public Library in Providence, a longtime Clean Break recipient that also partners with a local food bank and other service organizations. “We take anything and everything because we’ll find a home for it — there’s a need, and we’ll figure it out.”

Laforge’s team of volunteers transferred bins of donations into a U-Haul truck they brought to campus, including donated notebooks, pens, pencils and craft supplies, which will come in handy at the end of the summer, Laforge said. “We use all the school materials we collect so kids can take them for free at the library,” she said.

The sustainability office also maintains 10 collection hubs across campus year-round to collect small electronics to help stem the tide of e-waste, like charging cables and printer cartridges.

“In this day in age, we all generate more electronic waste, which contains both harmful substances and valuable materials, so it’s crucial to properly collect, treat and recycle it,” Berry said. “Clean Break is just one of the ways we’re addressing the growing global issue of waste. We also work with students during Green Move-In to help educate new students about sustainability initiatives and expectations, waste management and how to be a steward of our campus environment.”