On December 19, King’s College completed purchase of the Ramada Inn in downtown Wilkes-Barre, for conversion into dormitory and academic space. With a deadline to open for students next August, renovation was scheduled to start almost immediately.
But there was a problem. The Ramada was a working hotel, with 190 guest rooms, a restaurant and bar, conference and banquet facilities, china and glassware for hundreds of banquet guests, and a 3,000 square-foot industrial kitchen. There were thousands of items of usable furniture, supplies, and equipment in the hotel, all in good condition. King’s College abides by the words of its founding president, Father James Connerton, to “teach students not only how to make a living, but how to live.” Throwing the surplus away wasn’t an option.
“We needed a solution consistent with King’s College’s principles of charity and civic commitment. But we also needed a cleanout that was complete, professional, and quick. We had to be conscious of budget. And we needed it to happen over the Christmas holidays. It wasn’t an easy challenge.” Thomas Butchko, King’s College Director of Facilities and Procurement
Tom had heard of IRN through his professional network, and called in mid-November. On November 21 I made the drive to Wilkes-Barre, walked the hotel with Tom and his Facilities team, took a lot of pictures, and got as accurate as possible a piece count. Tom put us in touch with Mike Hinchey of Matheson Transfer Company, who have worked on the King’s College campus for many years, and we sketched out the logistics plan. IRN matched the surplus with our partner Salesian Missions, who indicated they could use the entire inventory to support community development work in El Salvador. We prepared the work plan and budget for Tom’s approval. All the pieces were lining up.
On Thursday December 19, I arrived back onsite and met the Matheson crew led by Corey Sands, Matheson’s Operations Manager. Using a ballroom as our staging area, we started to bring down the thousands of items that furnish a working hotel and conference center. On December 20 we loaded four shipping containers, then two on December 21, three on December 23. The crew staged again on Christmas Eve when trucks weren’t running, then filled three more containers on December 26, three again on December 27, one on December 28. On Monday December 30, four days ahead of schedule, we packed the last container, filled one rolloff box with scrap metal and another with the damaged and soiled items we’d set aside as unfit for reuse, cleaned up, and handed the hotel back to Tom, clean, empty, and ready for renovation to start.
In all, surplus from the King’s College Ramada filled seventeen tractor trailers with more than 4,500 items, more than 97 tons of usable furniture, equipment, and supplies. Another two tons were recycled as scrap metal, and about five tons (old big-box TVs) were sent to an electronics recycling facility. Only three tons, comprised of damaged or unusable pieces, were thrown away. The usable surplus included more than 500 mattresses, box springs and bed frames, 450 tables, 120 refrigerators and microwaves, 1,000 chairs, 425 desks and dressers, hundreds of sets of bedding and towels, and thousands of pieces of china-, silver-, and glassware. From the kitchen came about 35 major appliances, including industrial ovens and ranges, frying surfaces and deep-fryers, chillers, and warmers, plus a dozen stainless steel sinks and prep tables, along with boxes upon boxes filled with pots and pans, tablecloths, and other foodservice items.
The surplus was trucked to the Port of Elizabeth, New Jersey, where it was loaded onto container ships and transported to San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, in Central America. By now, the surplus has been unloaded and distributed among needy El Salvador communities, where it will have a long second life.
Christmas is the time of giving. Many thanks to Mike Hinchey, Corey Sands and their crew at Matheson Transfer for giving up much of their holiday season to make this project happen, to Salesian Missions for giving hope and material support to needy communities, and to King’s College for making such a large and meaningful gift in support of Salvadorans’ efforts to overcome social economic barriers.