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News & Events for the Smith College Community
Campus Life July 27, 2021

Meeting the Needs: Students Open Resource Center

Common Goods banner

Carrie Weil ’22 and Emma Ryan ’23J are unveiling a project they hope will make access to everyday needs less of a “scavenger hunt” for students. 

As interns with the Center for the Environment, Ecological Design and Sustainability, they have been setting up the Common Goods Resource Center, a student-run support hub that will open in September on the ground floor of the Campus Center.

Common Goods will provide students with toiletries, bedding, laundry supplies and other basic-needs items free of charge, and with no questions asked. The center will also help Smithies find other campus resources via a website that will go live in mid-August.

The project aims to fill resource gaps that exist because students don’t know what’s available, don’t feel comfortable asking for help, or face other obstacles in meeting their basic needs.

The cost of college is an issue for many students. And “with the pandemic, a lot of people’s financial situations have changed, or their living situations have changed,” notes Ryan. “We hear stories about people just feeling stretched thin.”

Whether it’s a desk lamp or a winter coat, Weil says, “we want any student who feels as though they need something from the center to be able to come in and get it, and to know that privacy and confidentiality are important to us.”

While many colleges have opened emergency food pantries in recent years, Weil and Ryan say Common Goods is unique in helping students with ongoing needs of daily living.

Weil says the center also stands out for making student engagement part of its mission. “We want the center to be a place where students can feel supported by their peers,” she explains. “One of my favorite things about Smith is the people, the community. This center came to be because of students, and we want it to remain student-driven.”

Research and organizing by students over the past few years laid the groundwork for Common Goods. A survey by Emmy Longnecker ’20, for example, helped reveal challenges students were experiencing in finding help on campus, and sparked lobbying by student organizations for a basic needs center.

This summer, a partnership with Smithcycle helped move the idea from proposal to reality. Smithcycle is giving Common Goods nearly 1.5 tons of clothing, bedding, school supplies and other items collected during move-out to to distribute to students in need.

“We produce an astounding amount of waste and excess each year,” says Assistant Director of Sustainability Rachael Wein, who runs Smithcycle. “The intersection of Smithcycle and Common Goods is the essence of what students have been pushing for: How can we reduce our community’s overconsumption while enabling dignified and equal access to critical resources?”

In addition to arranging donations to the center from Smithcycle, Wein has produced a list of non-toxic personal care products and other items that can be used in stocking the shelves at Common Goods.

The pilot phase of the project is being funded with a $10,000 Innovation Challenge grant written by Katie McGarry AC ’21. An advisory council is being formed, and conversations are under way about how to secure ongoing support for the resource center.

“This is such a great way to help students in the moment,” says Tamra Bates, director of student engagement, whose office has been partnering with students on the startup of Common Goods. “Smith gives a lot to its students, but there are still those in need. We’re hoping the center will help bridge the gap.”

During Orientation, pop-up events and house meetings will help get the word out to students about Common Goods. Ryan and Weil hope Smithies will help promote the resource center and give organizers feedback about its offerings. 

Weil, who is studying for the law school entrance exam, says helping to launch Common Goods has been a valuable experience.

“It’s taught me a lot, not only about Smith, but also about what it’s going to be like for me in the future when I’m working with others,” she says. “I’ve learned a lot about communications, flexibility and keeping an open mind.”

Ryan, who previously served as a Smith house Eco-Rep, says working on Common Goods is a concrete way to make a difference on campus.

“I think there is a lot of need and also a lot of generosity at Smith,” Ryan says. “I want Common Goods to be a conversation starter about access and class—about what our community is, where it’s going and what we offer each other.”