Free Cycle Friday initiative helps students save money and look stylish

a male college student smiles at the camera

PSU-LV senior Emmanuel Akubu arranges some of the clothing available at a recent Free Cycle Friday. Students, faculty, and staff donate gently used items and students are able to find clothing, accessories, and even housewares for free.

Credit: Pam Fleck

CENTER VALLEY, Pa. — An initiative wrapping up its first year has helped hundreds of cost-conscious Penn State Lehigh Valley students look stylish and get items they need without breaking the bank. 

Free Cycle Friday gives students the opportunity to recycle and upcycle their wardrobes and living spaces with items donated by faculty, staff, and students. All items are available for free. PSU-LV alumni Emily Marrero, a student worker in the Office of Student Affairs at the time, had the idea.

“She had seen a free cycle event held on other campuses, where students, faculty, and staff donated a variety of items and on a set day, these items were organized and students stopped by to ‘shop’ for free,” said Pam Fleck, assistant director of student affairs. Due to events already scheduled and other initiatives, the project was put off. This year, Fleck made the initiative a priority for the office.  

“I began to strategize on how to best implement this during summer and pitched the idea to the Community Heroes Service club early in the school year. Their team was on board and by late September our first Free Cycle Friday event was scheduled,” Fleck said. “As I brainstormed on ways to be creative and collaborative, I reached out to Karen Kackley-Dutt [associate teaching professor, biology] who teaches a Sustainability class. She and I have collaborated in the past on ways her students could complete a project outside of class alongside the Student Affairs team.”  

Kackley-Dutt gave students two project options: “Students could investigate a company or organization in the Lehigh Valley and talk about their sustainability efforts, or they could do something on campus.” Emmanuel Akubu, a student in the class, chose to do a campus project. With each component now in place, the first event was held in the fall and continued monthly throughout the year.  

Even though his Sustainability class wrapped up last semester, Akubu has stayed on to assist with the collecting and arranging of items through the spring.  Akubu is a standout on the PSU-LV men’s basketball team but said he wanted to get more involved on campus. “I never really got involved with school activities besides basketball, and I just wanted to do something different,” he said. “I never was the person who wanted to help out, but people change as they get older. It’s really been amazing to see my teammates bring donations. It’s been successful every month — it’s been really good.” 

This is exactly what class projects are all about — capturing students’ interest and boosting their engagement with a topic. “Emmanuel really took it to heart. He got other students involved. I was so impressed with how he took it on,” Kackley-Dutt said. “This is just what I wanted a student project to be — something good for the campus.” 

The initiative is a win-win for everyone. Donors get rid of unwanted items and help others; students get what they need and keep items out of landfills.

“To me, it’s great no matter what to give back to others — recycling what you need and paying it forward,” Fleck said. “Knowing what I know about our students on campus, many are working hard, and working more than one job, to pay for their education. Coming in here and finding some free resources can help to ease some of their financial burden. It’s been such a great way to help our own students.” Between 50-70 students visit the Free Cycle Friday event each month and an average of 150 items are taken. 

Donations of professional attire are particularly popular. “That’s sometimes what’s missing from a student’s wardrobe,” Fleck said, noting students can find entire business-appropriate outfits or separate items to round out what they may already have.  

Free Cycle Friday is held once a month and will resume in the fall semester. Dates will be posted on the Student Affairs events calendar. Items that would be useful to and appropriate for college students, namely clothing — especially professional attire — and accessories (shoes, purses, jewelry) and houseware items in good condition are accepted. Donations can be dropped off in the Office of Student Affairs.