Woman corrals the clutter

Carolyn Lambert could teach parents a thing or two about what not to send with their college-bound children.

“Look at this,” she said and picked up an unused mini ironing board from a massive pile of discarded belongings near Entrance C at Penn State’s Beaver Stadium. “Some mother thought she was sending her child off to college with some good housekeeping skills.”

Lambert is the volunteer co-chairwoman of the seventh annual Trash to Treasure sale at the stadium, and she helps keep thousands of unwanted items, donated by students moving out of their dorms, from going into the landfill.

Lambert must have the donations sorted in time for a one-day sale from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 31 at the stadium to benefit the Centre County United Way.

Shoppers can pay $5 to enter at 7:30 a.m. for the early bird sale.

Lambert, an associate professor of food systems management at Penn State, is coordinating the event with Janda Hankinson, a staff member in the university’s Information Technology Services department.

Hundreds of bags of stuff would be an organizational nightmare to many, but Lambert describes the work as relaxing.

The hardest part, she said, is finding the 500 or so volunteers needed to help put the items into neat piles on clearly labeled tables so the day of the sale will run as smoothly as possible. Many come from United Way agencies, university staff, local schools and the community, but she said she needs all the help she can get.

“It’s somewhat addictive in a way,” Lambert admits. “We do have a lot of volunteers that come back.”

Lambert has been a volunteer with Trash to Treasure since its first year, when the United Way organized it in only a week. The sale was held in the Snider Agricultural Arena, and she remembers it as chaotic.

“Just to get it out of bags and onto the tables was a major goal,” she said. “I don’t think they realized how much tonnage they were going to get.”

The event was moved to the stadium and now saves upward of 60 tons from going to the dump.

“It’s like a quadruple benefit,” Lambert said. “Part of the effort is to keep it out of the landfill, the students can get a good feeling, we make money for the United Way agencies and the community gets to come in and get a TV set for $10 or $15.

“Like I said, it’s a no-brainer.”

The Trash to Treasure event is her biggest volunteer activity of the year, and it’s no small task. This year, Hankinson will recruit volunteers and Lambert will tell them what to do.

“Carolyn is the organizer,” Hankinson said. “She is better at keeping everyone on task. She does a good job of regulating people. I think we work well together.”

Lambert has a system for everything. She usually has high school students work on the rugs, telling them to roll the rugs with the color facing outward if it’s clean and the opposite way if it’s stained.

The clothing tables are not only sized and sorted according to the season and gender, but there is a table for shirts with logos on them. Lambert plans to give away clothing with stains for free as cleaning rags so they won’t wind up in the landfill.

There will also be a “Best Loot” table for items that are still packaged or still have the tags.

“I don’t know about you, but I don’t consider a Nautica jacket trash,” she said, holding out the arm of a fluffy blue coat from a rack filled with lightly worn clothing. “I’m uncomfortable with the term ‘trash.’ ”