Montreal

Trash2Treasure aims to rescue students' cast-offs from McGill Ghetto sidewalks

It's the same every May: couches, desks and bookshelves litter sidewalks and alleyways as McGill students abandon their possessions in the end-of-year move. Now a group is trying to change that.

'When you walk [around] at the end of the exams, there's so much stuff,' said student Charlotte Fauqueux

Participants in the Trash2Treasure program, including Gabriel Townsend Darriau, far right, pose with some of the furniture collected from McGill students during moving season. (Rebecca Ugolini/CBC)

There's a special kind of perennial that lines the sidewalks of Montreal's Milton Park district this time of year — and no, we don't mean flowers.

The moment exams end, piles of personal belongings and furniture sprout up, left behind by university students who wrap up their academic year and head home, in haste.

Landlords have seen it all. 

"People in the past have literally just taken their clothes and walked out," said Robyn Friedman, who frequently rents to students. "The fridges are full of food. They've left textbooks and bottles of alcohol."
Durocher Street in the so-called McGill Ghetto, in Montreal Milton Park district, was lined with discarded furniture and possessions on May 2, two days after students wrote their last exams. (David Gutnick/CBC)

This year, a pilot project called Trash2Treasure is putting cast-off furniture to good use.

A collaboration between the Students' Society of McGill University (SSMU), the Office of the Dean of Students, and environmental groups such as SAESEM, among others, Trash2Treasure picks up furniture from students' homes and distributes it to thrift shops like Renaissance or organizations that deal with asylum seekers. 

The aim is to reduce waste while doing a good deed, said Gabriel Townsend Darriau, a project participant, who's seen people put perfectly good stuff out on the street.

"Then it rains, and it gets ruined," he said.

Trash2Treasure accepts textbooks, novels and kitchen items like this stuff left on the street. But they can't take anything that has been soaked by rain, as is the case here. (Rebecca Ugolini/CBC)

Student's trash, someone else's treasure

After dispatching a group of volunteers to scheduled appointments across the neighbourhood, Darriau hopped in an electric car and drove to his first pick-up of the day.

It's the apartment of third-year student Charlotte Fauqueux.

"We have clothes, all these coffee tables and this bed. Oh, and this desk! And another desk," said Fauqueux, pointing out furniture.

As Darriau called for more volunteers to move the sizeable haul, Fauqueux explained that if not for Trash2Treasure, most of the furniture would probably have found itself on the curb.

The end of the school year hasn't left her much time to sell or give away the furniture online.

"It's so much effort, and you have to co-ordinate, and be at home when the people come to pick it up. This is just a lot easier," said Fauqueux.

Trash2Treasure participant Laurie Morissette, left, who works for the environmental group SAESAM, and McGill Undergraduate Student Union, Connor Spencer, MUSU vice-president external, complete a pick-up by bike. (Rebecca Ugolini/CBC)

Hope for project to continue

Fauqueux isn't the only one impressed with the service.

Though the program is only in its first year, as of May 1, some 50 students had already signed up for a visit from Trash2Treasure.

A $20 deposit is required to use the service, which will run until May 6. 

And with neighbourhood support from the Milton Park Citizens' Committee and $15,000 in funding from the SSMU, there is hope the program could return for another year if it's successful.

For some, like Angie Koinis, the program is already working wonders.

She praised the program as she looked over a list of asylum seekers who will eventually receive some of the furniture Trash2Treasure has collected.

"Something that we think isn't valuable, they were finding true value in them. And they're really thankful and appreciative," she said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rebecca Ugolini

CBC Montreal radio producer

Rebecca Ugolini is a born-and-raised Montrealer who loves covering the city. Follow her on Twitter at @RebeccaUgolini.

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