, Newburyport, MA

April 26, 2014

Paying it forward

Student turns used clothes into food for Salvation Army

By James Pouliot

---- — BYFIELD — Emmy Cole of the Byfield’s Governor’s Academy is hoping to turn unwanted items into someone else’s treasure with her second annual Govs Goes Green clothing sale next month.

On May 10, Cole and Newburyport’s Salvation Army will open a one-day thrift store, selling donated clothing from the private school in exchange for canned goods, non-perishable foods and personal care items.

Cole, a sophomore, has been collecting clothing from the students, faculty and friends of the Governor’s Academy for two weeks. With many of the students boarding during the school year, as they return overseas and across the country for summer vacation, many throw away old clothing rather than pay for expensive shipping or storage costs. Cole hopes she can turn that waste into an opportunity for both the middle class and the less fortunate.

“We want to make high-quality clothes accessible to local people,” she said. “Then, we want to feed local people. The idea is keeping things local, because... there’s this discrepancy of accessibility in our neighborhoods, right down the road from you. So we’re trying to help different types of people through just one project.”

The Govs Goes Green project started last year when Cole opted out of a school sports requirement to do community service instead. A Chicago native, Cole grew up with a mother who made a point of exposing her to the overwhelming disparities of wealth between nearby neighborhoods. In high school, she wanted to do the same for her fellow students.

“I got thrown into a private school up here and there’s this exorbitant amount of wealth and opportunities,” Cole said of her freshman days. “This contrast being realized, ‘Hey, there is this issue of accessibility right down the road. How can we use a boarding school setting to our advantage?’”

The “green” aspect of the project lies in its environmental component: selling the clothes prevents them from going to waste.

“Until last year, kids at the end of the year would just dump their clothes and dump their accessories or whatever, and it would go to a landfill,” she said. “It’s five months for cotton clothes to decompose in a landfill, so it’s us going green.”

Through sheer serendipity, she mentioned the project to Paula Simpson of the Carry-Out Cafe in Newburyport, who connected her with Lieutenant Meghan Brunelle of the Salvation Army. Brunelle attended last year’s sale, then offered to bring the entire project under the Salvation Army’s roof. The two have been working together to publicize this year’s sale.

“We’re trying to emphasize for the outside community, ‘Hey, come shop, it’s only a box of rice or a can of beans,’” Cole said. “Everyone has that on hand to go and buy high-end, gently-used clothes. It’s such a steal.”

With help from her roommate and her brother, also an Academy student, Cole collected about 20 industrial-sized trash bags of clothing last year and exchanged them for 10 large boxes of canned food, which she donated to the Salvation Army.

According to Brunelle, the selection ranged from teenage girls’ clothes to men’s clothes to baby clothes, as faculty and staff joined in to donate their own items alongside their children’s outgrown clothes.

“She did a fabulous job,” Brunelle said. “She received quite a bit of what I would call high-end retail. It was really fun to go and see how excited she was.”

The Govs Goes Green used clothing sale will take place at Newburyport’s Salvation Army on May 10, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. All items cost one can or box of non-perishable food, or a personal care item. Clothing donations will be accepted ahead of time at the Philips building of the Governor’s Academy in Byfield. Emmy Cole can be reached for questions at