Como reuse program struggles with funding

A program that aims to eliminate curbside waste is in danger this fall.

Como reuse program struggles with funding

Megan Gosch

This fall, Southeast Como’s neighborhood free store may not be an option for students moving off campus.

As of Monday, funding had not been secured for Move In/Move Out, the waste reduction project utilized by students and residents looking to donate and pick up reusable household items during moving season.

Without outside funding, the Southeast Como Improvement Association will not be able to host MIMO for the fall moving season, said Justin Eibenholzl, an environmental coordinator for SECIA and an organizer of the MIMO project.

The MIMO event set for the spring 2012 moving cycle was canceled, also due to a lack of funding.

Throughout the past four MIMO events, almost 26,000 pounds of furniture and household goods have been diverted to attendees and more than 2,800 people have participated.

“Before this project, Como was seeing huge amounts of usable furniture being thrown out,” said Alison Henderson, a University of Minnesota student and an intern for SECIA.  “MIMO became a way to mitigate that wasteful habit and provide an alternative that was convenient for everyone.”

In the past, MIMO has been funded by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the McKnight Foundation and the University of Minnesota Good Neighbor Fund.

Although the Pollution Control Agency supported the project from 2009 to 2011, the agency can no longer fund MIMO due to specific grant limitations.

Madalyn Cioci, a waste prevention specialist and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s grant manager for the MIMO project, said the grant was not designed to provide ongoing operational funds for projects.

“The program under which MIMO was funded is intended for innovative first-time-out projects to give them a kick-start,” she said.

Eibenholzl said currently the cost of organizing the event, coordinating volunteer staff and getting the materials to promote it are too expensive unless it receives outside funding.

Southeast Como residents said it’s hard to understand why a program like MIMO would not receive funding.

“If you think about it, this one event is lowering our carbon footprint,” said Ashley McDonell, University student and Southeast Como resident. “It reduces our neighborhood’s waste, helps out our neighbors, and it’s free. With all of the benefits in mind, why wouldn’t they have support?”

While finding funds for MIMO has been difficult in the past, Eibenholzl said some organizations have begun to scale back their funding efforts while competition for available grants has increased. The benefits of the project have also been difficult to quantify when applying for grants.

“The project helps everyone involved,” Eibenholzl said. “Neighbors aren’t bothered by piles of trash on their curb, the city isn’t burdened to pick up piles of extra trash, and students have a way to dispose of the things they don’t want while picking up things they do need for free.”

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is continuing to work with the Southeast Como Improvement Association to find partnerships within the community that could create a more sustainable program and would not rely on continued grant funding, Cioci said.

The organization is considering a potential membership model, partnership with landlords and sponsorship from local businesses as possible methods of fundraising for future MIMO events.

“A project like this makes sense,” Henderson said. “It’s just unfortunate we haven’t gotten the support we’ve been looking for. We’ll find a way to make it happen one way or another.”