Cycle of Sharing: BSU’s Free Store Supports Students, Protects the Environment


Three people standing in front of windows decorated with decals of pine trees. A logo on the window says "Free Store" in English and Ojibwe.
(L to R) Erika Bailey-Johnson, sustainability director; Colton Fetzer, Minnesota GreenCorps member; and Jordan Lutz, sustainability project manager.

To kick off the spring 2024 semester, Bemidji State University’s Free Store has reopened in the lower Hobson Memorial Union with a fresh stock of gently used items and a reorganized layout to better serve students.

History of the Free Store

BSU alumna Crystal Rayamajhi started the Free Store in 2012. She was moved by an article about a college student who collected and repurposed items for the public. This concept is what inspired the Free Store.

“We had the desire for sustainability from students and support from faculty, staff and administration, and those were the key ingredients to make ideas become reality,” she said. “To work towards sustainably is an expression of compassion.”

Colton Fetzer, a Minnesota Green Corps member who recently graduated from Utah State University, shares his efforts to encourage all students to come to the Free Store.

“Reuse is for everyone, and all should partake,” he said. “In an ideal world, people would choose to only reuse.”

Donate Don’t Dumpster

Students are posing by a table in the BSU Free Store
BSU’s Free Store is run by student staff in the Sustainability Office.

Free Store staff sort through donations as they are received. Most items do find a home, either at the Free Store or with a community partner. Donations selected for the Free Store should interest students.

“The Free Store is run by and for students,” Fetzer said.

The Free Store’s “Donate Don’t Dumpster” initiative encourages BSU students to donate their unused belongings such as perishable items, clothing, shoes and more into large bins found in different places on campus.

Their biggest donation period is typically at the end of each semester. More than 1,000 pounds of items were donated during the last three weeks of the Fall 2023 semester. Between 2010–2020, Free Store donations prevented 32,000 items from being sent to landfills.

“Every donation count,” said Fetzer.

Normalizing Sustainability

A male student in a red shirt and orange jacket poses by a bookcase filled with items in BSU's free store. A sign above the bookcase reads "Welcome to the Free Store"
Books are a popular item at the Free Store.

Jordan Lutz, sustainability project manager and BSU graduate, says that the ease of coming to the Free Store is purposeful. Students can come in and when they leave, they list the items they grabbed and the date.

“We do not want anyone to feel judged on how few or many times they come here,” he said. “There is a stigma against people who wear reused items and we want to eliminate that by making people feel as welcome as possible.”

The Sustainability Office wants to reinforce the benefits of reuse for the environment and students. Ultimately, the goal is that students will make a lifestyle change that will continue after they leave BSU.

“The ease of consumerism encourages spending and more waste,” Lutz said. “We hope that students continue to reuse after graduation.”

Rayamajhi says the Free Store continues to show BSU’s commitment to the environment and to teaching sustainable lifestyles.

“By caring for everything from the small things like the flowers, insects, and birds, all the way up to the systems that provide us food and energy; we are supporting a healthy relationship with the Earth so plants, animals, and people can thrive for generations to come,” she said.