Bring too much to Knox this year, or not enough? Missing a favorite sweater, travel mug or already thinking about the perfect Halloween costume? Welcome to the Free Store.
On Fridays from 5 to 7 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 3 p.m., students get the chance to venture beneath campus to a place where everything is free.
“[The Free Store is] a great place for people to just drop off things that they don’t want or need and…to pick up stuff that they might want or need,” Free Store manager junior Emma Weitzel said.
Weitzel sits in a chair with two other volunteers, freshman Ben King and junior Carrie Stephen, the president of Knox Advocates for Recycling and Environmental Support (KARES), sitting beside her. They enjoy the busy energy with a handful of students browsing the store. There are several clothing racks in the first room, shelves full of pants, books and a rack to organize shoes. In the second room are kitchen and school supplies, jewelry, cans, fabrics and everything in between.
“Instead of just throwing things out, you have a place to actually put it and somebody else will use it,” Weitzel said.
Over three years ago, KARES helped moved the Free Store from its previous location in the Taylor Lounge into the basement of Conger-Neal. Since then, KARES has asked for regular volunteers and a couple of years ago the store started having regular hours. Just this year, they have been able to expand into the room next door, which was previously used for storage.
The students who have been volunteering long term believe the store is becoming more popular. Weitzel explains that a couple of Fridays ago when weather was bad and she felt there would not be much of a turn out, she almost did not open the store. She said that a fellow member of KARES, post-baccalaureate fellow Elizabeth Cockrell, called her to make sure she was opening the Free Store.
“So I came over and people were just sitting there,” Weitzel said. “I was like, ‘Who waits for the Free Store to open?’ But apparently a lot of people do.”
“I really liked the concept that things can get reused and it just seemed really interesting,” King said, who was volunteering for his first time.
When asked, the volunteers said they had found some of their favorite items here.
“I got this black sequined mini dress that was in perfect condition and it fits me perfectly… I love it,” Cockrell said.
Cockrell recalls helping a suitemate quickly move at the end of her first year. The student had to switch to an earlier flight and was out of time.
“She was just throwing a bunch of her stuff into a garbage bag and intended to throw it away. So then my roommates and I decided to take it down to the Free Store,” Cockrell said.
She says it was that situation that sparked her interest.
“Just one person who changes something…that doesn’t have to go in a landfill, I think it’s really important to have… There isn’t always what you’re looking for, but sometimes you find what you aren’t looking for and it’s awesome,” she said.