As the semester draws to a close and students prepare to move out of residence halls, they are given the opportunity to donate their unused belongings to a meaningful cause.

Three years ago, Fairfield University students Vinny Rotondo ‘23 and Hannah Sencaj ‘23 spearheaded an on-campus operation aimed to assist newly-arrived refugees as they acclimate to life in the United States.

Recycling for Refugees is an on-campus initiative that offers Fairfield University students the opportunity to donate their furniture and otherwise unused items to refugees looking to furnish their living spaces in the wake of their arrival.

Rotondo says that he and Sencaj were inspired to start Recycling for Refugees after taking a refugee literature course taught by Julie Mughal, the Assistant Director of Humanitarian Action in Fairfield University’s Center for Social Impact. The course was centered around understanding the individual and immeasurable difficulties faced by refugees forced to flee their home countries in search of self-preservation. 

After watching a film on the magnitude of American greed, the students noticed how American consumerism can lead to material waste and a lack of equitable distribution of resources. Rotondo noted that they both wondered “What if we put our excess commodities to use?”

Their purpose was nuanced as it aimed to promote awareness about the plights faced by refugees while concurrently encouraging students to see the ways in which their donations have the opportunity to meaningfully impact the lives of others. 

Given that the program started in the midst of COVID-19, it was not until last year that students were able to meet the refugees in person. Human interaction is an essential element of service work, and students were able to further connect with the mission once given the opportunity to see the real-life impact of their work.

Rotondo reflects that this interaction was “the most meaningful part of the experience” and a tradition he wishes to continue in future years.

Integral to the program’s success is the team of student movers who assist in collecting items and ensuring that they are organized and properly assembled for when the refugees arrive. 

Donations include tables, lamps, rugs, hampers, kitchen supplies and more. Even if students are not in a position to donate, movers are always needed as they play an integral role in the recycling process.

As encapsulated by Julie Mughal, “Recycling for Refugees is a wonderful initiative which allows students to donate gently used clothes, furniture, household goods and school supplies to local organizations which can put them to good use while also keeping them out of landfills.”

“It is a win-win for everyone and a great way for our campus to advance our commitment to Laudato Si,” celebrated Mughal while referencing Pope Francis’ encyclical addressing ecological issues.

As both seniors prepare to graduate in May, their mission is to keep Recycling for Refugees alive in their wake. It is a collaborative effort and a community experience that relies on students joining together to promote their cause.

Fairfield University Student Association will be sending a school-wide email with further instructions on how students may participate. 

The students emphasized that any student donations in the form of items or time are welcomed and appreciated.

The impact of Recycling for Refugees extends beyond the material value of the items donated; it is an initiative with a real-world impact and an opportunity to provide comfort and stability to refugees as they resettle in their new country.

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